Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 87

The Kremlin is said to have established a “situations staff” to formulate responses to the Duma’s impeachment initiative. Its members reportedly include Tatyana Dyachenko (Yeltsin’s daughter and “image adviser”), Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and his first deputy, Oleg Sysuev, Federal Security Service director and Security Council secretary Vladimir Putin, and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin (who recently replaced Vadim Gustov as first deputy prime minister). In addition, Sergei Zverev, a former deputy board chairman of the Gazprom natural gas monopoly and a former key player in Vladimir Gusinsky’s MOST media empire, is reportedly set to be named a deputy head of the Kremlin administration in charge of political issues. He may be joined by Mikhail Lesin, first deputy chairman of VGTRK, the state-owned company which runs the RTR and Kultura television channels, Radio Russia and various regional television and radio stations. Lesin founded the powerful Video International advertising company, which played a major role in Yeltsin’s 1996 electoral campaign, and he reportedly remains close to Dyachenko and Valentin Yumashev, the former Kremlin chief of staff and ghostwriter of Yeltsin’s memoirs, who reportedly remains a key insider. Anatoly Chubais, who now heads United Energy Systems, Russia’s power grid, apparently still plays a key “political consulting” role for the Kremlin (Argumenty i fakty, No. 18, May 1999).

Zverev and Lesin being elevated to Kremlin posts would suggest that the Kremlin is gearing up for a media campaign in the walk-up to this year’s parliamentary elections. Chubais’ input here would be relevant as well, given that he was in charge of Yeltsin’s 1996 campaign.

The Kremlin’s new soft line in relation to Primakov, meanwhile, could be interpreted not only as a strategy designed to ensure that IMF conditionalities are met, but as a sign that Yeltsin and his inner circle suddenly feel less threatened by the Primakov government and the leftist opposition. This, in turn, suggests that the Kremlin may be planning in earnest to use something like integration with Belarus to prolong Yeltsin’s political life. It is interesting to note that U.S. ambassador to Belarus Daniel Speckhard was reported to have said yesterday that the United States does not object to plans for a Russia-Belarus union but that any integration processes should be in line with democratic principles (Russian agencies, May 4). The U.S. statement, along with those by Vladimir Putin over the weekend–that the Russian president will head the union and the Belarus president will be its vice-president–suggests that unification is becoming a real possibility.