Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 27

President Boris Yeltsin’s trip to Amman to attend the funeral of King Hussein has sparked major speculation within Moscow’s political circles. Most observers believe Yeltsin’s trip was designed to show world leaders that they should not yet write him off. Perhaps more important, Yeltsin, who is recovering from a bleeding gastric ulcer, wanted to show the Russian audience, and particularly Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, that he is still in charge. On February 7 Russian information agencies had quoted sources “close to the cabinet” as saying that Primakov would probably lead the Russian delegation to Amman, given his long acquaintance with the late Jordanian monarch. According to one account, for Primakov–an Arabist who worked for a long time in the Middle East–attending the funeral was a matter of honor and “professional prestige” (Izvestia, February 9). Several media organizations reported today that the decisive factor in Yeltsin’s decision to lead the delegation were the rumors that Primakov would attend instead of Yeltsin. One newspaper reported “panic” in the Kremlin when Yeltsin announced his decision to make the trip–despite the “protests” of his doctors, family, “inner circle” and subordinates (Vremya MN, February 9). One newspaper reported that Yeltsin looked considerably worse at the end of his short visit than when he arrived (Segodnya, February 9). Various Russian media sources referred to unconfirmed Jordanian press reports that Yeltsin received emergency medical treatment during the trip.

Last week was dominated by the now-open battle between Primakov and Boris Berezovsky. This week is likely to unveil a more open confrontation between Primakov and Yeltsin. The word now spreading is that while Yeltsin was not pleased to find out that Atoll–a private security firm controlled by Berezovsky–had allegedly spied on members of his family, he is even less thrilled with Primakov, whose popularity, according to several recent polls, is growing. One newspaper reported today that when Yeltsin met Primakov following the prime minister’s initiative late last month–which called on Yeltsin to forgo his constitutional prerogatives to dissolve the Duma and dismiss the government–the head of state warned the prime minister that he [Yeltsin] would not tolerate any similar “unsanctioned actions” (Kommersant daily, February 9). It is also possible that the pressure from law enforcement agencies against Berezovsky’s holdings may cease (see the Monitor, February 2-5). Those actions have been criticized by various politicians, including Sergei Yushenkov, a leading member of Yegor Gaidar’s Russia’s Democratic Choice. Yushenkov, like Berezovsky, warned that the Primakov government was moving toward Soviet-style repression (ORT, February 5).