Russia's newly elected lower house of parliament, which many had predicted would be more pragmatic and centrist than the last, today headed into its second week of gridlock as liberals poured scorn on acting President Vladimir Putin for making a deal with the Communists.
Putin, in his first comments on the fracas, said he would not interfere. He also denied that he had entered into a "strategic conspiracy" with the Communists, but also showed no signs of backing down.
The dispute broke out last week when Putin's Unity party unexpectedly joined forces with the Communists and reelected Gennady Seleznev, a Communist, as speaker of the chamber, the State Duma. The deal also gave Unity and the Communists the most committee assignments. Left out in the cold were three smaller parties, two of them made up of pro-market liberals, who blame Putin for the decision to join forces with the Communists.
Some analysts have attributed the deal to political jockeying by Putin ahead of the March 26 presidential vote in which he is the front-runner and is expected to face Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.
The three disaffected parties began boycotting Duma sessions last week and vowed to continue this week unless the crisis is resolved; some also met today with Seleznev in search of a settlement. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, the fiercest Putin critic, said tonight that the acting president was trying to run the parliament by diktat as in Soviet times.
"The Kremlin--Vladimir Putin and his people--have decided to act by force," Yavlinsky said. "To act so in everything; in the Duma, to restore their own order by force, throwing out everyone else. In Chechnya, to solve everything by force alone, without any political negotiations. . . . This is a very serious sign, because it speaks of the way matters will be decided in our country."
Irina Khakamada, a leader in the Union of Right Forces, a liberal pro-market party, said last week's deal was a "gross and clumsy" operation "carried out under the strategy with which Putin had agreed."
Putin denied that he had supported Seleznev as speaker. "It's not my decision," he insisted. And when pressed on the distribution of committee assignments, he added, "I am not going to get involved in this."
Some officials had said an early sign of the new Duma's more pragmatic approach would be approval of the long-delayed START II strategic arms accord, signed in 1993 but left unratified by two previous parliaments. But Zyuganov said today he would not rush to a vote. "One does not ratify treaties on the run," he said.