President Boris Yeltsin returns to his Kremlin office on Monday, December 7, but there is no longer much effort made to conceal his decrepitude. The struggle to succeed him has been launched.

Among the least likely to succeed are Yegor Gaidar, Yeltsin’s first economic guru, and Anatoly Chubais, Gaidar’s successor in that position. Gaidar as acting prime minister in 1991-1992 presided over the wave of economic reforms called “all shock and no therapy.” His program unraveled before relentless opposition from the communists in the parliament and the onset of an uncontrollable inflation which reached nearly 2,000 percent in 1992. Chubais, though only 43 years old, has been first deputy prime minister twice (1994-1996 and 1997-1998) as well as presidential campaign manager, chief of staff, negotiator with Western banks and the IMF, and (currently) president of Unified Energy Systems, supplier of 80 percent of the country’s electric power. He is considered the architect of the 1992-1996 privatization program which allowed a small group of insiders to gain control of vast assets in mining and energy, industry, and finance. Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov once called Chubais “the most hated man in Russia.”

Gaidar and Chubais announced in an open letter on November 27 that they had formed a coalition to “unite the democrats.” Joining them were Sergei Kirienko, the mayfly prime minister who served from April to August of this year; and Boris Nemtsov, Chubais’ cabinet colleague in 1997-1998. But before a week had passed, Kirienko appeared to have backed out, while appeals to center-left political figures like former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov were decisively, even derisively rejected.

In the last parliamentary elections–in December 1995–Gaidar’s own party, Russia’s Democratic Choice, failed to secure the 5 percent of the total vote needed to win at-large representation in the Duma. With Chubais added, Gaidar’s support could fall to 3 percent or less.


— While the Gaidar-Chubais coalition is about as appealing as an accordion player in a subway station, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s new Fatherland (Otechestvo) movement is the bandwagon everyone wants to ride–at least for now. The “Russia Is Our Home” (ROH) party, which holds about 10 percent of the seats in the Duma, is exploring “joint political action” with Fatherland–maybe even arranging for some of its members to join the new movement, to give Fatherland official status as a party in the Duma. ROH, the party of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, has access to big-time money (from natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, among other backers) but has failed to establish broad popular appeal…. The newspaper “Kommersant” speculates that Sergei Kirienko will sign on with Fatherland before long…. Dmitri Ayatskov, the energetic governor of the Saratov region on the Volga, says he is ready to join Fatherland’s organizing committee.

— Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, also a presidential possibility, does not blame the IMF for Russia’s economic problems. It’s democracy that’s at fault. “Russia has done it the wrong way,” he told the ‘Christian Science Monitor,’ “with free-market reforms and democracy at the same time. That’s absurd. Democracy came before the country was ready.”

— The electorate in St. Petersburg is as sophisticated as any in Russia, but the balloting for the municipal assembly on December 6 will be hard to decipher. According to Russian television, vote buying is widespread–the going rate per vote is 15 rubles, about US75 cents. But even a vote-seller could be confused by the dirty tricks. The ballot lists some “doubles,” sham candidates with the same name as the serious contenders. There is even a sham Yabloko party, draining votes away from the genuine supporters of reform politician Grigory Yavlinsky. Because the election occurs in the shadow of the murder two weeks ago of St. Petersburg’s leading democrat, Duma member Galina Starovoitova, it is receiving an unusual level of national attention. The federal Central Election Commission has sent representatives to St. Petersburg and reportedly could declare the election invalid.