Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 99

The Russian media continues to buzz about the tycoon Boris Berezovsky’s apparent comeback to a predominant place in Kremlin court politics. The Kremlin has reportedly nixed Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s plans to appoint State Duma budget committee chief Aleksandr Zhukov as first deputy prime minister in charge of economic policy, leaving railroads minister Nikolai Aksenenko as the cabinet’s single first deputy prime minister and, it seems, its overall economics tsar (see the Monitor, May 20). Aksenenko, who was named a first deputy prime minister just after Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was fired, is said to be a member of President Boris Yeltsin’s extended political family and to enjoy close relations with Berezovsky and Sibneft oil chief Roman Abramovich.

According to one account, “the collective Yeltsin” had nothing against Zhukov’s appointment to the cabinet, but it insisted that he would get only a simple deputy prime ministerial portfolio and that Aksenenko would be the sole first deputy prime minister. During a meeting on May 19, following Stepashin’s confirmation by the State Duma, Yeltsin reportedly let Stepashin know in “harsh” terms that this is how things would be. Thus, according to this account, when the Duma deputies voted to confirm Stepashin, they were unknowingly voting less for Stepashin than for “Aksenenko’s exclusive powers, fully comparable to those of the government head himself.” The same account noted Stepashin’s “extremely gloomy” mood while chairing his first cabinet meeting yesterday (Segodnya, May 21).

Berezovsky appears on the verge of scoring another victory: Anonymous sources today reportedly said that Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo may be named as interior minister, to replace Stepashin (Russian agencies, May 21). Rushailo is reportedly close to Berezovsky. One newspaper, meanwhile, reported that another Berezovsky ally, Igor Shabdurasulov, who currently heads Russian Public Television (ORT), may be named head of the government apparatus. Shabdurasulov was head of the department of government information when Viktor Chernomyrdin was prime minister (Izvestia, May 21).