Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 17

While the Mikhalkov candidacy story got a lot of attention from the Russian press, another story has also raised eyebrows–one involving a letter and a packet of documents which Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov sent to State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev on January 22. In the letter, Primakov said that Russia’s socioeconomic crisis could not be solved without “political stability.” He called for “all possible measures to strengthen the institutions of the state and guarantee that the actions of the federal organs of state power are jointly agreed upon.” Primakov advocated five specific measures: first, that President Boris Yeltsin should refrain from exercising his right to dissolve the Duma or fire the cabinet; second, that the government should not force the Duma to take a vote of confidence (which could also result in the Duma being dissolved or the government fired); third, that the Duma should refrain from voting no-confidence in the government; fourth, that the Duma should not vote on measures which could lead to its own dissolution; and, fifth, that the Duma should also cease its impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin. It would appear that Primakov is trying, at a minimum, to cut a deal to freeze the status quo–including his premiership–until the next presidential elections (Russian agencies, January 25; Segodnya, January 26).

One of the documents Primakov sent to Seleznev was a draft law on the presidency. The proposed legislation includes benefits for former presidents–including a pension, life and medical insurance, medicine and household services commensurate with that enjoyed by an acting government official, free transportation, and lifelong status as a member of the Federation Council, the parliament’s upper chamber (that is, immunity from prosecution). The measures are almost identical to those which Communist Duma members have been pushing. What is intriguing is that it is apparently Primakov who is now pushing them (Segodnya, January 26).

In his letter to Seleznev, Primakov wrote that if the Duma speaker agreed to the suggestions, then he, Primakov, “could clear the project… with the president of the Russian Federation.” That Primakov floated this idea without Yeltsin’s prior agreement means either that Yeltsin was unable to discuss the project for medical reasons, or that the usually cautious premier “decided to act at his own risk, practically beginning his presidential campaign” (Segodnya, January 26).

Some observers believe Primakov is the most likely successor to Yeltsin, and all he needs to do is to reach an understanding with his strongest potential rival, Yuri Luzhkov. According to this scenario, Primakov would cut a deal with Luzhkov, under which the Moscow mayor would agree to serve as President Primakov’s prime minister until the next presidential elections in 2004. Primakov, who would then be 73 years old, would step down and effectively hand over the Kremlin to Luzhkov (Profil magazine, January 25). Given that Primakov and Luzhkov are very close in their views of both domestic and foreign policy issues–both men are “gosudarstvenniky” [great-power statists]–the idea that they might forge a political pact does not seem far-fetched.