Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday August 11, 1999
Yeltsin Protecting Entourage in Shuffle Russia
Political analysts see Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s nomination of Russia’s fifth premier in 17 months as an act of desperation aimed at protecting the interests of his entourage and not of the country.
The choice of security boss Vladimir Putin, with roots in the Soviet-era KGB, also boosts the threat of “unconstitutional” measures like declaring a state of emergency that might derail a general election scheduled Dec. 19, they said.
Earlier yesterday, Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, just three months after appointing him to the post, and named Putin acting premier. He also declared Putin his preferred candidate in next summer’s presidential election.
The move coincides with rising political tension triggered by the formation of a powerful new bloc uniting popular Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and regional leaders and by fresh conflict in the unruly North Caucasus — a development that could provide the grounds for declaring a state of emergency in Russia.
“Putin is tougher than Stepashin and has the support of the security organs, ” said last week’s edition of the Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper, which accurately predicted Putin’s appointment.
Other “unconstitutional” scenarios rehearsed in Russia’s mass media include bann ing the main opposition Communist party, in the name of fighting political “extremism” and dissolving the legislature to allow Yeltsin to rule indefinitely by decree.
Yeltsin’s naming of Putin as his preferred heir did not impress analysts.
“Putin is not a public figure, ” said analyst Andrei Piontkovsky of the man dubbed the Grey Cardinal for his secretive, behind-the-scenes style.
Putin’s taciturn expression is also unlikely to appeal to Russian voters.
“But Putin is the best candidate (as prime minister) if The Family is preparing a non-constitutional scenario for holding on to their power and privileges, ” Piontkovsky added.
Politicians and analysts from across the spectrum were unanimous on one point — Putin’s appointment had nothing to do with protecting national interests or helping the economy.
“This could jeopardize the (economic) recovery we have seen, ” said Peter Westin, economist at Russian Economic Trends.
“Yeltsin is just showing the only means of power he has, hiring and firing. It is becoming fairly ridiculous.”
Putin, whom Yeltsin also named as first deputy prime minister yesterday, must now be approved by the State Duma. If the opposition-dominated chamber rejects him three times, Yeltsin must call an election.
Analysts were divided over whether deputies, who in any case face the voters in December, would accept Putin.
Some said deputies would quietly nod him through, as they did Stepashin, to hold on to their privileges until their mandate expires. (Hamilton Spectator, C4, 8/10/1999)