Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 111

The Kremlin, meanwhile, has dropped a hint that it sees Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin as a potential successor to President Boris Yeltsin. In an interview published earlier this week, Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin suggested that Stepashin has presidential ambitions (Izvestia, June 7). That idea was picked up and stressed yesterday by another presidential contender, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who said in an interview that Voloshin’s hints that Stepashin would make a bid for the Kremlin were on the mark (Russian agencies, June 8).

It is difficult to know whether such speculations are designed to help or hurt the prime minister. Yeltsin sacked Viktor Chernomyrdin last year in that position, reportedly after Chernomyrdin met with U.S. Vice President Al Gore and asked whether Washington would support his presidential bid. Likewise, it is generally believed that Yevgeny Primakov was sacked last month mainly because he enjoyed high ratings in the opinion polls and was perceived to have had presidential ambitions. Thus, Luzhkov, in playing up Stepashin’s presidential ambitions, may be trying to bring down Yeltsin’s wrath on the prime minister. This theory was put forward yesterday by State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, who said that Stepashin may be fired if the public discussion of his alleged presidential ambitions continues (Russian agencies, June 8).

Luzhkov, in fact, was asked by reporters for his view of the idea that Yeltsin tends to turn against those who are named as his potential successors . Luzhkov’s answer: “That question should not be directed toward me.” Luzhkov did say, however, that he sympathized with Stepashin for being in the hot seat and that he [Luzhkov] was ready to support Stepashin’s efforts to revive the economy (Russian agencies, June 8).

Even Kremlin administration chief Voloshin’s hints that Stepashin may be the successor may have a malign intent. Voloshin is thought to be a member of the Kremlin inner circle whose representative in the Stepashin cabinet is First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko. The inner circle reportedly tried to have Aksenenko, not Stepashin, named prime minister.