Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 111

For the first time the Kremlin has denied rumors that President Boris Yeltsin is planning to stay in power after June 2000, when his constitutional term ends and new presidential elections are scheduled. An unnamed “Kremlin representative” said that Yeltsin “will go down in history as the president who ensured the first legitimate changing of power.” Yeltsin, he said, “stands for the inviolability of the constitution and that means he will not allow a postponement of the elections.” The official admitted that the June 2000 vote will not be easy, saying that “the summer of 2000 will be an extremely difficult period for Russia.”

He was apparently reacting to widespread media speculation that Yeltsin’s inner circle is contemplating using either a union with Belarus or the transformation of Russia–or both–into a confederation as a way of creating, in essence, a new country, which would by definition require a new constitution and thus a delay in the scheduled vote to choose the next Russian president. The official said that plans for a union with Belarus were proceeding slowly and would not be completed by next year. He said further that “no creation of a confederation is being discussed” (Itar-Tass, June 8).

On June 4, a Russian daily claimed that it had gotten hold of a Kremlin plan to announce a confederation and postpone the Russian presidential vote. The same day, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin held a meeting with Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and declared that Russia would move quickly toward a full-fledged union with its fellow Slavic neighbor (Kommersant, June 4; see the Monitor, June 2).

Despite such denials, there is indirect evidence that at least some presidential aspirants believe that fear of the future may be driving Yeltsin to somehow retain his power. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said yesterday that the president and other top state officials should be given life-long status as members of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. This would give them life-long immunity from prosecution, and, according to Luzhkov, would also resolve any uncertainties on their part about their futures out of power and put to rest doubts surrounding the likelihood of a transfer of executive power (Russian agencies, June 8).

It is worth noting that Luzhkov’s demarche concerning life-long Federation Council membership appears to be taken from the “civil accord” proposal made earlier this year by Yevgeny Primakov. Then prime minister, Primakov floated a proposal designed to ensure political stability, which contained guarantees to the president of immunity from prosecution and other retirement benefits, including free rides on public transport. Russian media reported at the time that Yeltsin was outraged by the proposal.