Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's Otechestvo (Fatherland) political movement, which heretofore appeared as a unified monolith, may have hit its first troubled waters.
The Congress of Russian Communities movement (KRO)-a minor party-is suspending its membership in Otechestvo to run independently in State Duma (lower house of parliament) elections, KRO leader Dmitry Rogozin announced at a news conference June 17.
The ostensible reason given was that KRO members are unhappy with Otechestvo's growing closeness to the All Russia political movement, which unites regional leaders. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev effectively heads All Russia. The first leader to sign a bilateral treaty with Moscow granting the region special privileges, Shaimiyev symbolizes regional separatism to many Russians.
KRO's chief aim is to protect the interests of Russians living in former Soviet republics, and, more recently, in national republics within Russia.
Rogozin, a Duma deputy, was a member of Otechestvo's top leadership. He told The Russia Jounral that he would not have left were
it not for rumblings within the movement, which the ambitious Luzhkov founded last year ahead of this year's Duma elections and presidential elections next year. The Moscow mayor is considered a top candidate for the presidency.
Rogozin's disagreements with Otechestvo are not part of a personal fight for power, but come as the result of his own party's dissatisfaction with Otechestvo's evolution, one source close to Luzhkov said.
"My personal relations are good. I am close to the emperor," Rogozin said, meaning Luzhkov.
Otechestvo members are unhappy that Luzhkov, who oversaw a capitalist boom in Moscow by ruling it as a personal fiefdom, is chiefly concerned with presidential elections.
They say that to insure himself in the race for the presidency, he is now concentrating on mayoral elections-recently and controversially rescheduled for December-rather than campaigning for Otechestvo members who want to run for the Duma.
The mayoral elections were due to be held next year, but the coincidence between them and the presidential race would have caused severe problems for Luzhkov. With the rescheduling, he can simultaneously campaign for the mayoral seat and for Duma elections.
Furthermore, having City Hall secured, Luzhkov can run for the presidency knowing he will be able to return to his old job if defeated. The move will also allow Luzhkov to pick his successor since according to the city's constitution, a chosen deputy mayor succeeds his boss if he leaves office mid-term.
In a move that seemed to boost Otechestvo's image, Russia's Democratic Choice movement leader, reformer icon Yegor Gaidar, said last week he would coordinate campaigning in single-seat constituencies with Luzhkov's movement. Nezavisimaya Gazeta also opined that Luzhkov might be angling to cooperate with Right Cause, a coalition of Russia's reformist parties.
But another prominent reformer, former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, recently went into battle against Luzhkov, saying he would run for the mayor's seat. The move was said to be backed by the Kremlin, which is itself engaged in a war of words with the increasingly haughty mayor.
Kiriyenko followed his announcement with harsh criticism of Luzhkov and the installation of a hotline for compaints about Moscow's administration. Kiriyenko criticized the city government for its corruption, saying there is no difference between it and the Kremlin in their patriarchal and controlling nature.
While Kiriyenko's was an attack from the outside, last week's KRO split confirmed rumors that Otechestvo was stumbling on internal problems.
Another tiny party, The Russian Movement for Political Centrism, headed by Duma deputy Stepan Sulakshin-an Otechestvo co-founder-also said it would not coordinate Duma election campaigning with the movement last week.
Otechestvo's official response to Rogozin's defection was that it constituted no threat to the movement, and stressed that KRO suspended its membership only temporarily. Some analysts also said that the events may be part of a natural process of growth, reflecting inevitable political realignments.
But those close to Otechestvo say last week's desertions reflect deep problems with the way Otechestvo is run.
"It's a court, a real court. It has courtiers, guards and sycophants," Rogozin said.
Kiriyenko said last week that while criticism of the president and his entourage is rampant, Russian politicians are becoming increasingly wary of criticizing Luzhkov, and only do so in hushed tones.
Insiders say it is difficult for Otechestvo members to even speak to Luzhkov, and that the movement's structure is becoming increasingly autocratic. They add that unhappiness within the movement is growing.
"[Luzhkov] presents an image as the people's protector, the father of the nation who will quickly save us all," Kiriyenko said in an interview. "But the important thing is not to ask any kind of questions and not to doubt anything, while blindly believing that we will be guided toward a happy future."