In the weeks after the Russian parliamentary elections of 17 December last year, the view of the results that prevailed in official and businesscircles could be summarized as follows: ‘Nothing terrible has happened, and there won’t be big changes.’ Evidence that this view was shared by the Russian business elite was provided by the relative stability of the dollar exchange rate. This not only failed to burst out of the ‘rouble corridor’ after the elections, but did not even move significantly within the bounds which the corridor imposes on it.

It is revealing that the leaders of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (kprf) did not expect any marked changes to follow the elections either. The Communist Party leaders spoke only of the need for the course of official policy to be corrected. The truth, however, is that very dramatic changes lie ahead. The relationship of political forces has altered, along with their degree of influence and their structural coherence. These changes have been so far-reaching that the dynamic of the political process will inevitably change as well. All the old schemes will turn to dust, and completely new situations will arise.

The first result of the elections will be the consolidation, growth and internal structural development of the ‘big four’ parties that were victorious in the elections. So far there are no grounds for stating that the fragmentation of the political spectrum and the mosaic-like character of Russian politics has been fully overcome. Apart from the ‘big four’—the Communist Party, Our Home is Russia (ndr), Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (ldpr), and Yabloko—a series of other parties, none of which surmounted the 5 per cent barrier, will also be represented in parliament as a result of having won seats in single-member constituencies. There is no reason to think that the development of a multi-party system will be limited to the swallowing of these minor formations by the ‘big four’. To some degree this process will occur, first of all on the level of the parliamentary fractions, but at the same time there will be fusions between small parties trying to avoid being ingested by the largest groups. The result could be the emergence of six or seven parties or blocs operating over Russia as a whole, whileall the others gradually wither or are forced off the political stage. If this does not amount to the ‘Europeanization’ of the Russian political system, then at least a degree of order and rationality will have been introduced into it.

Unlike the triumph of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1993, the Communist Party’s victory was not the result of a successful television campaign. The gains for the Communists resulted from serious organizational work in the provinces and from shifts in popular consciousness. The swing to the Left has mainly benefited the largest left party, to a degree even at the expense of other leftists.

The advances made by the Communist Party were relatively even, with dramatic gains even in traditionally anti-communist districts. In the Kuzbass coal region the Communist Party scored a sweeping victory, winning four out of five deputies’ mandates—this outcome is explained partly by the popularity of local political leader, Aman Tuleev, who ran on the Communist list. In Moscow, the 15 per cent vote for the party is evidence of important shifts within the middle layers of the population: here the Communist Party managed to outstrip Yegor Gaidar’s party, Russia’s Democratic Choice, even though Moscow represented Gaidar’s last bastion. The only reason why the Communist Party’s success in the capital did not extend to victories in the single-member constituencies was that the Communists proved unable to field candidates who satisfied the demands of the politically sophisticated Muscovites.