Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 94

The impeachment hearings against President Boris Yeltsin got underway in the State Duma yesterday, with Vadim Filimonov, a deputy from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) faction who heads the Duma’s impeachment commission, reading out the five charges against Yeltsin. Filimonov, whose address lasted ninety minutes, charged that Yeltsin had committed “high treason” for allegedly breaking up the Soviet Union, which “helped NATO” and “proved to be a great help to the countries traditionally antagonistic to Russia.” He also said the charge of genocide was fair because Yeltsin had planned “to cut down the population size by inducing poverty.” In a separate speech, Viktor Ilyukhin, the KPRF radical who heads the Duma’s security committee, charged that Yeltsin had committed “crimes against humanity.” Afterwards, KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov said he liked both Filimonov’s and Ilyukhin’s speeches (Moscow Times, May 14). The Duma is expected to vote tomorrow on the five counts.

On the one hand, it looks as if at least one of the impeachment counts–holding Yeltsin criminally responsible for the war in Chechnya, will be supported by more than two-thirds of the Duma (301 votes or more of the body’s 450 members) which is required for passage. An account today reported that in the wake of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s firing earlier this week, a number of deputies from two “centrist” Duma factions–Russia is Our Home, which has sixty-one Duma seats, and Russian Regions, which has forty-three–are now likely to vote for at least one impeachment article (Vremya-MN, May 14). Russian Regions, as its name implies, is closely connected to the country’s regional leaders, many of whom supported Primakov. The Kremlin can rely on the fifty deputies of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) to vote against impeachment. One magazine this week reported that Tatyana Yeltsin, the president’s daughter and advisor, offered Zhirinovsky control of Transneft, the state-owned oil pipeline company, in return for the LDPR’s votes (Vlast, May 12).

The shifting balance in the Duma may mean that the forty-six deputies belonging to Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko will play a crucial role in determining whether impeachment passes. Yavlinsky says that his faction will, as a matter of principle, stick to its pledge to vote for the impeachment article concerning the war in Chechnya (see the Monitor, May 13). Yavlinsky has repeatedly said that it is necessary to vote for this charge to establish a precedent that leaders of Russia cannot murder its citizens with impunity. Meanwhile, Vitaly Tretyakov, chief editor of the newspaper “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” for the second day running, today appealed to Yavlinsky to demonstrate statesmanship by changing Yabloko’s stand on impeachment and thereby averting a possible confrontation between the Kremlin and the opposition which could enter extra-constitutional territory (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 14).

Even if the Duma passes impeachment, there is almost no chance that it will go further. Following its passage in the lower house, it must go to Russia’s Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, which determine whether the measure is legally and constitutionally valid. The Constitutional Court has already ruled that Yeltsin did not violate the constitution in sending troops to Chechnya in 1994. Meanwhile, Yeltsin recently asked Vyacheslav Lebedev, the Supreme Court’s head, to stay on for a second term, and today asked the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, to approve the candidacy of another judge to the Supreme Court, Magomed Magomedov (Russian agencies, May 14). The Kremlin thus would appear to be trying to ensure a reliable Supreme Court.