Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 103

The man who is supposed to be in charge of appointing the cabinet, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, felt it necessary to say today, while opening a meeting of the cabinet: “In order to avoid various sorts of talk of who is the boss in the government, I state that its chairman (the prime minister) leads the government, and he is responsible for all that happens with the government.” Stepashin, not surprisingly, was described as looking “grim” (Associated Press, May 27).

Some Russian media today described the goings-on at the top in distinctly alarmed terms. That battle for power, according to one account, “has absolutely discredited the president, because it was he who appointed Stepashin to the post of premier. As for Stepashin himself, he is confronted with a tough choice: either agree to become a puppet figure, or resign immediately.” Ironically, the newspaper, which was one of the main media opponents of Primakov’s government, cited approvingly a comment from the Swedish economist and former adviser to the Russian government Anders Aslund that the “oligarchical putsch of May 12”–the day Primakov was fired–had been “harmful to Russia” (Kommersant, May 27).

The newspaper today also claimed that the main power behind the Yeltsin throne is not the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, but rather Roman Abramovich, head of the Sibneft oil company. The account alleged that Viktor Kaluzhny, who has been named Russia’s fuel and energy minister, has already “redistributed” quotas for imports of Iraqi oil in Sibneft’s favor (Kommersant, May 27). Earlier this year Aleksandr Korzhakov, the former head of Yeltsin’s security service, claimed that Abramovich was the Yeltsin family’s “cashier.”

Meanwhile, today another headline read: “Nomenklatura War” (Izvestia, May 27). Still another wrote: “The authorities, before even finishing with one government crisis, have with their own hands created a new one. Instead of forming a cabinet they are dividing up posts, which is not the same thing. It makes absolutely no difference which of the oligarchs are after what, or how Yeltsin’s family circle or the presidential administration takes decisions. The consequences of such a divvying up are so serious, that even those involved [in the dividing up] will suffer, not to mention the country, which they have completely forgotten about” (Vremya MN, May 27).