Yeltsin's Latest Gambit

Article excerpt

Medieval russia

UNITED STATES--The firing of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and his government makes the fourth time in less than 18 months that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has made a Russian government disappear. Mr. Stepashin's replacement is 46-year-old Vladimir Putin who, like Mr. Stepashin and Yevgeny Primakov before him, hails from the secret police. He was head of the Federal Security Services, the domestic successor to the infamous Soviet KGB.

Welcome to today's Russia, where the Prime Minister is mainly the ailing Yeltsin's watchdog, appointed to protect the power and financial interests of the President, his family and their inner circle. Any thought that this sounds feudal is most apt. There isn't much law in Russia, just centers of power. ...

Despite it all, Russia has progressed in this decade. It now has contending political forces, instead of one-party rule. It has a constitutional base, though there is an overwhelming need for a credible rule of law. It has real elections and a contentious press. There is a market economy of sorts. And most important of all, its people are learning to make use of their greater freedom to cope with their own needs, even while governments come and go like troupes of players.

--Wall Street Journal

August 10, 1999

Parade of prime ministers

UNITED STATES--These are strange and dispiriting times in Moscow. By sacking another Prime Minister, Boris Yeltsin invites parody at a moment when his country desperately needs stability. Mr. Yeltsin and his evanescent governments seem increasingly irrelevant to the lives of most Russians, a sorry picture for a man who did much to free his nation from the stranglehold of Communism.

As Mr. Yeltsin heads into the final year of his presidency, he seems more interested in finding a successor than a prime minister. Insuring that Russia's next president is a democratic reformer is a laudable goal, if that is Mr. Yeltsin's intent, but the way to get there is not by appointing a succession of mediocre Prime Ministers. In picking them, Mr. Yeltsin mistakes fealty for leadership and fails to recognize that such rapid turnover in the Kremlin is likely to discredit anyone associated with him. ...

Mr. Yeltsin, enfeebled by heart problems and frequent bouts of pneumonia, is more a subject of ridicule than respect in Russia. With Russian troops once again engaged in military combat in the Caucasus region, this time against several thousand Islamic militants, Russians can only wonder what Mr. Yeltsin's next surprise will be.

--New York Times

August 10, 1999

Yeltsin bets on crude force

RUSSIA--Weak as never before, President Boris Yeltsin, it seems, has decided to bet on crude force. With Putin in the premier's office and Supreme Commander-in-Chief Yeltsin urging stability in the country, the influence of the "force ministries" will grow infinitely. And so will the influence of the government's staff.

--Izvestiya

August 11, 1999

Yeltsin violates voters' right

RUSSIA--No doubt, under the constitution, the president can sack the premier and government. But by sacking Mr. Stepashin without explaining his reasons, President Yeltsin violated a voters' right which, while not being written in the Basic Law, is natural in a democracy. It is the right to know.

--Moskovskii Komsomolets

August 11, 1999

Specter of islamic revolution

RUSSIA--Those behind the idea of distributing and legalizing arms among the population in Dagestan should know that these weapons can easily be used to stage an "Islamic revolution" in the north Caucasus. The federal forces, indecisive and incompetent, are poor protection for the corruption-weakened Russia.

--Noviye Izvestiya

August 11, 1999

Provocation

RUSSIA--It looks like a provocation. Should the opposition respond rashly, the Kremlin would declare a state of emergency. …