Distributed May 1999
Copyright ©1999 by Stephen D. Shenfield
Russian insiders attribute the decision to the influence of a clique of financial oligarchs and politicians around Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. The key figure in the plot was the notorious "oligarch" Boris Berezovsky.
When Primakov took office, he launched official investigations into the activities of some of the criminal "businessmen" who have robbed, defrauded and terrorized the Russian people over the last decade. He moved with caution, starting with small fry out in provinces like Bykov in the Krasnoyarsk Territory in Siberia. But eventually an arrest warrant was issued for Berezovsky himself, who had to take refuge in Paris.
From the start Berezovsky declared war on Primakov. Overzealous public prosecutors were quietly removed, while chief prosecutor Yuri Skurlatov was implicated in a petty sex scandal. And now Yeltsin has been persuaded to get rid of Primakov himself. The gangsters are back in power.
The top two figures in the new government - Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and acting First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko - are both members of the Dyachenko-Berezovsky clique. Stepashin is linked to the "power ministries": He was interior minister, and before that head of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, in which he played an important role in unleashing the Chechen war. Aksenenko, previously minister of railroads, is to be responsible for the economy.
Under Primakov, some modest gains were registered in the economic sphere. Backlogged wages and pensions began to be paid off, and the prolonged fall in industrial output was halted. It is doubtful the new government has the skills needed to handle the economy. It is significant that the remaining Western investors are now taking their money out of Russia. The country may face yet another cycle of its economic crisis.
The appointment of a man of the power ministries as prime minister, a position normally occupied by an economic manager, fuels speculation that Yeltsin may be laying the groundwork for declaring a state of emergency. The special "Vympel" security force is being beefed up. Few Russians believe Yeltsin will ever resign peacefully, even if he is defeated in next year's presidential elections.
Of course, Yeltsin is not immortal. His strength will finally give out. When he is dead or completely incapacitated, a new president will have to take over. There will then be a struggle for the succession, new political convulsions. Primakov, who was far and away Russia's most popular politician and the only figure able to unite the broad center of the political spectrum, embodied the precious opportunity of a smooth transition to the post-Yeltsin era. That chance of stability is now gone.######