Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 69

Political tensions are clearly increasing with the approach of April 15, the day the State Duma will decide whether to launch impeachment proceedings against President Boris Yeltsin. Most of Russia’s main newspapers ran articles reporting that the Kremlin was preparing a series of responses to impeachment, ranging from firing the cabinet of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to firing Primakov himself to banning the Communist Party of the Russian Federation to declaring a state of emergency.

The speculation reached such a fever pitch today that the president apparently felt it necessary to weigh in with denials. Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, who met with Yeltsin today, quoted the head of state as saying that he is not planning any firings from the cabinet whatsoever (Russian agencies, April 9).

Despite Yeltsin’s denials, the proliferation of press articles on the consequences of impeachment would appear to represent, at least in part, a Kremlin effort to scare the Duma away from going down that road. A “high-ranking” Kremlin source is reported to have told journalists yesterday that if the opposition-dominated Duma votes for impeachment on April 15, Yeltsin will oust the “leftist vice-premiers”–meaning Yuri Maslyukov and Gennady Kulik, and possibly even Vadim Gustov. If Primakov wants to keep his cabinet, the same source reportedly said, his only choice is to convince the Duma not to vote for impeachment. Further, the “presidential strategy” is reported to have taken Primakov’s previous statements that he would resign were his leftist deputies fired fully into account. While the Kremlin would not be happy about Primakov’s possible departure, it will still, apparently, oust whomever it decides to oust (Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 9).

Another report has it that the Kremlin is particularly livid about a meeting Primakov recently held with leaders of the Duma’s leftist factions, in which he reportedly told them: “I don’t think we need it now”–“it” meaning impeachment, with the offending words, from the Kremlin’s point of view, being “we” and “now” (Vremya-MN, April 9).

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that a “confrontational scenario” was possible; in it Primakov’s cabinet would be dismissed, the Duma dissolved and various parties and pre-term elections banned (Izvestia, April 9).

Whether the various leaks regarding the Kremlin’s possible reactions to impeachment are statements of intent or simply attempts at intimidation may be a moot question. Yeltsin’s opponents in the Duma are said to be unworried, given that, on the one hand, the impeachment measure is unlikely to pass the lower house, and, on the other, if it does pass, they do not care whether Primakov, Maslyukov and Kulik lose their jobs (Vremya MN, April 9). Indeed, Kremlin sources are said to fear that if impeachment is approved, the Duma will then move to amend the constitution to create a kind of new Politburo, with the president elected by “electors” rather than by popular vote (Izvestia, April 9).