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Russian Government Faces No-Confidence Vote

The Russian government faces a no-confidence vote in the Duma, or lower house of parliament late Wednesday. An unusual alliance grouping communist deputies and their colleagues from the pro-market reform Yabloko party put forth the parliamentary motion, accusing the government of failing to follow through on economic reform.

Russia's parliamentary opposition accuses Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government of pursuing policies that favor Russia's huge natural monopolies, while overlooking falling living standards and rising crime.

Critics of the motion dismiss it as nothing more than pre-election posturing, ahead of scheduled parliamentary elections in December. But the director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow, Andrei Piontkovsky, says the vote has significant political importance.

"Every party during its election campaign is attacking [the] government," says Mr. Piontokovsky. "And what is most paradoxical is [that] the so-called party of power, Yedinya Rossiya [United Russia], is doing it [here], maybe even more aggressively than others, in spite of the fact that the leader of the party, Mr. [Boris] Gryzlov, is interior minister of this government."

Mr. Piontkovsky also said he suspects that President Vladimir Putin himself would welcome any help parliament could give him in getting rid of Mr. Kasyanov, a holdover from former president Boris Yeltsin's administration.

Under Russia's political system, the prime minister sets the tone on the nation's economic policy. And while President Putin has avoided criticizing Mr. Kasyanov personally, he has frequently criticized his Cabinet for failing to stimulate faster economic growth or to reduce Russia's bloated bureaucracy.

Mr. Kasyanov had been scheduled to appear before the Duma Wednesday, but he chose to appear a week earlier than scheduled in a move viewed as an attempt to tamper down his critics ahead of the no-confidence vote. He is currently attending an economic conference in St. Petersburg and will not be present for the vote on the measure.

The no-confidence motion requires a simple majority of 226 votes from the 450-seat pro-Kremlin Duma to pass - a feat that will be difficult to achieve, given that the communists, together with their hard-line allies and Yabloko, are thought likely to secure only about 150 votes.

All the same, Mr. Piontkovsky of Moscow's Strategic Studies Center told VOA he wouldn't rule out the possibility for dramatic developments this being an election year.