Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, one of the strongest candidates to succeed President Boris Yeltsin, struck an alliance Wednesday with a political movement that could greatly increase his standing among voters outside the capital.
The coalition between Luzhkov's Fatherland movement and the All Russia movement, which unites a number of the nation's most powerful regional leaders, was formed for the December elections to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.
However, it's also a key step in Luzhkov's strategy to widen his appeal in the provinces. All Russia includes governors from St. Petersburg, the Caucasus, the Urals and Central Russia.
One of its founders, Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaiymiyev, could help deliver the vote from Russia's second-largest ethnic group, the 5.5-million Tatars.
Luzhkov told reporters that the centrist coalition was prompted by "desire to solve the real economic problems of our country, desire to observe and develop the values of democratic society and develop the economy on market principles."
The Russian Constitution bars Yeltsin from running for a third term next year, but the president is expected to pick a desired successor. While Luzhkov has not yet announced his candidacy, the Kremlin assumes he will be running _ and has been criticizing him openly.
Yeltsin's chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, said in an interview published Wednesday that Luzhkov would not be the best choice to succeed Yeltsin.
He told the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily that Luzhkov favors an aggressive foreign policy toward Russia's neighbor Ukraine, and has threatened to redistribute property that had been privatized over the past decade.
"That means there's theoretically a chance that everything would be confiscated and divided all over again. It's horrible even to imagine what this could lead to," Voloshin said.
Yeltsin met with Shaiymiyev, one of his oldest allies, Wednesday. Shaiymiyev told reporters only that Yeltsin had reacted "normally" to news of the coalition.