Russia's parliamentary crisis appeared to ease today when one of the liberal factions boycotting the legislative session agreed to return in exchange for a promise to consider its agenda.
Sergei Kiriyenko, leader of the Union of Right Forces, a liberal pro-market party, said his group had agreed to return to work after a meeting with acting President Vladimir Putin and Boris Gryzlov, the leader of Putin's new party, Unity.
Putin surprised the liberals and others last week when Unity made a pact with the Communists to divide up committees and leadership posts, leaving the smaller parties out in the cold. Three factions walked out of the chamber, paralyzing the lower house, the State Duma, at the beginning of its session.
Kiriyenko said his group had decided to return in exchange for a promise of prompt action on tax reform, passage of a land code, a labor law and legislation on the perks of lawmakers and limiting their right to immunity from criminal prosecution.
"We managed to change the situation," Kiriyenko said, but added that "it's not a whole solution" and "equal conditions for all cannot be created overnight."
Putin, who said Sunday he would not interfere in the crisis, in fact got involved today after criticism from some lawmakers that he had misstepped in relations with parliament. Kiriyenko's party had advertised its support for Putin's presidential campaign last fall, and was the closest to Putin of the three disaffected factions.
The other two parties, Yabloko, headed by Grigory Yavlinsky, and Fatherland, headed by former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, remained on the sidelines today and did not join Kiriyenko's negotiations.
Gennady Seleznev, the Communist speaker who was elected as a result of the deal between Unity and the Communists, insisted that the three minority parties would have to fall in line this week so the chamber could get down to work. Seleznev had suggested creating three new committees, one for each of the dissenting groups, as a compromise. The three parties were awarded only one committee each after the deal between Unity and the Communists, which gave themselves seven and nine committees, respectively.
Another compromise, Kiriyenko said, would be to appoint lawmakers from the boycotting parties as deputy chairmen of the committees.
The unexpected deal last week suggested that, rather than a centrist parliament, which many had predicted after the December elections, the Communists might again be able to dominate the chamber in alliance with the pro-Putin party. Liberals said they were angry and disgusted at Putin's maneuver. The newsmagazine Itogi ran a cover photo of Putin this week with the headline "But Inside He Is Red."
Putin said he had nothing to do with the deal. After meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, Kiriyenko said he and Gryzlov came up with a joint statement they will present to the Duma's agenda-setting council later this week.
Kiriyenko declared a limited victory today, but there is no certainty that the Communists, who still control a large faction in the Duma, will approve the legislation. Kiriyenko said the boycotting parties are unlikely to force the Communists and Unity to reapportion committee assignments and deputy speaker posts that they divided up last week.
CAPTION: Sergei Kiriyenko said his party returned after meeting with Putin.