Interviewed on Russian TV over the weekend, Viktor Chernomyrdin stated for the first time that he definitely intends to run for president in 2000. (ORT, March 28) Chernomyrdin, sacked as prime minister one week ago, refused to be drawn as to whether he was Yeltsin’s designated successor but stressed that the president himself had encouraged him to involve himself in campaigning for Russia’s upcoming elections.
Speaking on background, Yeltsin staffers immediately threw cold water over Chernomyrdin’s attempt to snatch victory from last week’s surprise dismissal. High-ranking Kremlin sources quickly let it be known that the president was "surprised" by Chernomyrdin’s presidential aspirations and "had not yet determined" his attitude toward Chernomyrdin’s candidacy. It was "premature" to talk about the 2000 elections, the sources sniffed, because the Constitutional Court had not yet declared whether it would be legal for Yeltsin to run for a third term. In other words, Yeltsin was miffed by Chernomyrdin’s clear desire to step into Yeltsin’s shoes before the incumbent had stepped out. Not, the sources hastened to add, that Yeltsin had decided whether he would run for a third term if the Court decided in his favor. (Russian agencies, March 29) If any doubt remained that Yeltsin sacked Chernomyrdin — and, perforce, the rest of the cabinet — because he felt the prime minister was getting too big for his boots, it was dispelled over the weekend when Yeltsin formally ushered Kirienko into Chernomyrdin’s old office in the Russian White House. Pointing to his own portrait on the wall, Yeltsin warned Kirienko, "Don’t knock it down before 2000." (Washington Post, March 29)
Shorn of presidential support, Chernomyrdin’s prospects do not look good. The latest in the series of public opinion polls carried out each week for Russia’s independent NTV found that, if the presidential election were held today, Chernomyrdin would trail all other leading candidates. Communist Gennady Zyuganov leads the field with 21 percent; followed by Yuri Luzhkov and Grigory Yavlinsky, both with 10 percent; then by Boris Nemtsov and Aleksandr Lebed with 9 percent each. Chernomyrdin finishes last with 6 percent. (NTV, March 29)
Yeltsin Trip to Japan to Go Ahead as Planned.