Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 46

Following President Boris Yeltsin’s surprise firing of Boris Berezovsky last week from the post of Commonwealth of Independent States executive secretary, a number of observers interpreted the sacking as the prelude to a shake-up in the Russian cabinet. According to this theory, Yeltsin, in order to strike a blow at Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, the man who most directly threatens his power, had first to make a move against Berezovsky, who is widely reviled in the Russian political establishment and has become an emblem of corruption–worse still, Kremlin corruption. Berezovsky’s firing came amid press attacks against two of Primakov’s deputies, Yuri Maslyukov and Gennady Kulik, both for corruption and, in the case of Maslyukov, for his failure to win new assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Maslyukov–who last week accused IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus of exerting “indecent” pressure on Russia when he [Camdessus] criticized Russia’s 1999 budget as unrealistic–has himself come under strong criticism for his negotiating tactics from former Prime Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin and Sergei Kirienko, former Finance Ministers Aleksandr Livshits and Boris Federov and former Economics Minister Aleksandr Shokhin, all of whom at one time or another negotiated with international lending institutions.

In a sign that Berezovsky’s firing has cleared the decks for a presidential assault on the Primakov cabinet, Oleg Sysuev, first deputy head of the Kremlin administration, said on March 6 that while Yeltsin has generally praised the cabinet’s work, “Yevgeny Maximovich [Primakov] should be advised to be more critical of the performance of the government, because complacency can lead the prime minister and ourselves to miss something of key importance.” Sysuev said that Yeltsin “undoubtedly has no complacency about the government” and that no cabinet members should assume that they will keep their posts indefinitely (Russian agencies, March 6).

Meanwhile the People’s Patriotic Union of Russian (NPSR), the umbrella “national-patriotic” opposition group headed by Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, released a statement on March 5 warning that if the “Primakov-Maslyukov government” is removed, the NPSR’s leaders will “directly, over the heads of the oligarchs and the incompetent president, appeal to the people to create strike committees at enterprises and to join in mass actions to protect the unity of the country and peace.” The statement said the NPSR was sure that the army, the Interior Ministry and other “power structures” would support “saving the country from civil war” against “a small circle of antinational politicians and financial speculators who have taken the place of an incompetent president.” The statement also said that the “enemies” of the Primakov government were part of a “planned campaign” to “squeeze” out of the government those who were trying to “defend national interests” in negotiations with the IMF, thereby creating a “political crisis.” Finally, it called for an economic program based on “self-sufficient development of the country” (Russian agencies, March 5).

Against this backdrop, television channels NTV and RTR, the state channel, kept up their criticism of the Primakov government in general–and of Maslyukov in particular–in their weekly news analysis programs last night. Both RTR’s Zerkalo and NTV’s Itogi programs continued to identify the Primakov government with the communist-dominated opposition. Itogi’s host, Yevgeny Kiselev, said that the March 5 NPSR statement, in calling on support from the army and Interior Ministry, resembled appeals made in the walk-up to the October 1993 opposition rebellion. Kiselev said the statement showed that communist radicals such as Viktor Ilyukhin and Viktor Anpilov have taken over the leading roles in the NPSR from Zyuganov. Another NTV reporter said the statement’s call for “self-sufficient development of the country” was reminiscent of North Korea’s “juche” ideology (NTV, RTR, March 7).