Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 208

Russian Public Television (ORT) and Nezavisimaya gazeta charged over the weekend that Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) had dispatched a delegation to the West to convince officials there that Putin should be replaced by Primakov (see the Monitor, November 8). The charges were repeated by RTR state television (RTR, November 7). One of the members of that delegation, Sergei Karaganov, who heads the pro-Primakov Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and is a Primakov adviser, quickly returned to Moscow from New York to respond to the charges. In an interview published today, he denounced the reports as “slander,” and said that he and the other members of the delegation had stressed to their American colleagues that Putin’s policy in Chechnya was correct. “The Berezovsky group will stop at nothing–neither denunciations nor slander–in order to hold on [to power],” Karaganov said, adding that the methods used by Berezovsky’s media to defend Putin in fact cast a shadow on him and could be “a propagandistic cover” for removing Putin (Moskovskie novosti, November 9).

Karaganov’s comments were just the latest in a series of demarches and rumors concerning the possibility that Yeltsin might sack Putin. While the Chechen campaign appears to have made Putin Russia’s most popular politician–at least according to public opinion polls–and, for the same reason, and gained him the support of Russia’s generals and “power ministers,” this is no guarantee that he will remain in power. Indeed, the experience of Yevgeny Primakov would suggest that Yeltsin, while constitutionally barred from running for a third term, remains jealous of popular prime ministers.

As the newspaper Komsomolskaya pravda, which has been supportive of Putin, noted last week, the Kremlin inner circle “has never trusted prime ministers, especially those whose popularity threatened to lead to their political independence and those who enjoyed the sympathy of the military. That is why we must not rule out the possibility that Putin, who is currently on his way to the top, will be used by the Kremlin as small change in bargaining with the West, on which Russia is so heavily dependent.” In removing one prime minister after another, the paper noted, Yeltsin has shown that “all decisions are made by him alone” and that the prime minister in Russia “is no more than a clerk.” The paper also reported that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov recently suggested that Yeltsin could become the head of a Council of Advisors in Russia, “created on the pattern of Councils of Elders which are widespread in the Caucasus,” and that Yeltsin “is said to like the idea” (Komsomolskaya pravda, November 5).