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In 1996, the Russian president Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was on his last legs; his extensive privatization campaign had left both the Russian economy and people in a state of disarray, homelessness and poverty running rampant. Yeltsin's health saw a dramatic decline in the mid-1990's, falling victim to a number of heart attacks by early 1996. All of these coincided with a sharp decrease in popular opinion, as well as the presidential election of 1996.
Trailing far behind in fifth place, Yeltsin was losing ground far to quickly against more "leftist" opponents such as the Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. It seemed Yeltsin's fall from grace was imminent. To counteract these events however, saw the uniting of some of Russia's most powerful oligarchs, fearful of the communists rise to power and the perceived threat to their wealth that entailed. Thus, whilst at the 1996 Swiss World Economic Forum, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky and a number of other Russian businessmen banded together to fight back against the growing power of the communist party. Tactics including mass media control, over-spending of election funds and voting manipulation saw the rise in support for Yeltsin, and his eventual re-election.
In this alternate history however, Berezovsky never realigns himself with Gusinsky, nor any other oligarchs, thus disallowing Yelstin the stronger campaign he needed to proceed to victory. The mass media in this universe never fully rallies behind Yeltsin, and the communists, in retaliation against the unstable years of the Yeltsin presidency, are able to mount a true campaign for the presidency.