Russia’s political parties failed to give decisive, unified responses to the challenge of President Yeltsin’s high-handed dismissal of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and appointment of Sergei Kirienko in his place. Every major party and faction seems weaker now than before the crisis, and some may splinter.

— Communist radicals and moderates are close to schism. Neo-Stalinist Viktor Anpilov called Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov a “traitor” for failing to hold the Communist faction in the Duma together to oppose Kirienko’s nomination. (Most Communists did not vote at all in the final ballot.) Gennady Seleznev, the Communist moderate who is Duma president, voted for Kirienko.

— Several regional leaders are leaving their homes in the Russia Is Our Home (ROH) faction. Now that ROH leader Viktor Chernomyrdin is out of office, the pro-government faction is less attractive to ambitious provincial politicians, some of whom–like Dmitri Ayatskov of Saratov–may challenge Chernomyrdin for the presidency in 2000.

— Far from rejoicing that its members are getting cabinet positions, the Yabloko faction expelled Oksana Dmitrieva when she agreed to serve as Minister of Labor. While he retains a certain purity in opposition, faction leader and eponym Grigory Yavlinsky has done almost nothing to expand his base. Nationwide, his group has no more than 5,000 registered members, and the Yabloko contingent in the Duma has less than 10% of the seats.

— General Aleksandr Lebed, anticipating a win in the May 17 gubernatorial elections in Krasnoyarsk and a presidential campaign in 2000, divides the Communists further. Even while the party leadership calls him a “Pinochet” and tells its members to vote for his pro-Yeltsin opponent, Lebed is catching on with the poor and rural voters that are the party’s core supporters. At the same time, Lebed has financial backing from Boris Berezovsky, whom Forbes magazine calls the richest man in Russia.


* Russian and American interests have clashed with greater frequency and intensity in recent weeks, over UN policy toward Iraq, settlement of the Kosovo dispute, Russian nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran, and Moscow’s plans to deliver anti-aircraft missiles to Cyprus. The Foreign Ministry has not commented on the U.S. ratification of NATO’s expansion into Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, but official and public opinion remain strongly opposed to NATO enlargement and to growing American influence along Russia’s borders.

* Officials promised to cut the top import tariff from 30% to 20%, in accordance with Russia’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The cuts would affect high-tariff items like food, automobiles, and alcohol. But there is still no word on when the long-promised cuts will take effect.

* Persons unknown kidnapped President Yeltsin’s representative in Chechnya somewhere near the Chechnya-Ingushetia border. National Security Secretary Ivan Rybkin is in Chechnya trying to negotiate his release. There is no word on the identity or motive of the kidnappers. The rash of recent kidnappings also includes three Latvians, abducted in Ingushetia in late April. A former cabinet officer in Chechnya’s last pro-Russian government was kidnapped in Moscow by persons claiming to be Russian law-enforcement officers.