Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has now been in office eighty-two days, exactly as long as his predecessor. Unlike the forgotten Sergei Stepashin, Putin is getting his job done. That job, the one the Kremlin really cares about, is not crushing Chechnya. And certainly not reforming the economy. It is stopping Yuri Luzhkov and Yevgeny Primakov, the Moscow mayor and former prime minister whose alliance threatens the wealth, security, and freedom of the Kremlin’s current rulers.

So Putin must have been deeply gratified when Luzhkov, Primakov and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev published an open letter to President Boris Yeltsin complaining of “open interference” in the campaign for December’s parliamentary elections. The signatories, who head up the Fatherland-All Russia coalition, accused unnamed Kremlin figures of pressuring the media. “Political censorship originating with your subordinates working in your name is becoming more and more obvious,” they wrote, saying it “contradicts the law and generally accepted democratic norms.”

The president’s spokesman did not remark on the oddity of a lecture from Luzhkov and Primakov on democratic norms. He did accuse them of trying to create a “before-the-storm atmosphere of civil war.” As to implications that Boris Berezovsky directs the Kremlin’s political maneuvering, the spokesman said: “I think [Yeltsin] does not think about [Berezovsky] at all and does not know him well.”

Luzhkov and Primakov have fallen in public esteem as Putin rises. The stone wall that Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo has built around the Swiss and American money laundering investigations is holding up. The constant Moscow rumors of Putin’s imminent dismissal seem out of place. He is serving his masters tenaciously and well.