Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 3

Acting President Vladimir Putin reshuffled the Kremlin administration yesterday, appointing two career diplomats, Aleksei Gromov and Vladimir Rakhmanin, as presidential press secretary and chief of protocol, respectively. He also appointed Igor Shchegolev as the head of the presidential press service. Shchegolev had been in charge of media affairs for Putin while Putin was prime minister. Meanwhile, Dmitri Kozak, head of the government executive office, said that Putin will continue to serve as prime minister while he serves as acting president–until, presumably, after the presidential election is held. Kozak also said that First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko will fill in as prime minister if Putin has to be temporarily absent from his office for any reason, and that “no large-scale changes in the government” are planned. This is significant in that Aksenenko, the former railways minister who is believed to be closely allied with tycoon Boris Berezovsky, was reportedly behind the removal last September of Dmitri Savelev, head of the Transneft state oil pipeline company, while Putin was travelling abroad. But while Aksenenko seems to be safe for now, he would seem a likely target for removal following Putin’s likely victory in the presidential election. That vote has tentatively been set for March 26, but the Federation Council, which is constitutionally charged with setting the dates for presidential elections, will meet in a special session today to discuss the issue. Theoretically, the date could be moved up even earlier (see the Monitor, January 4).

Many observers believe that Putin’s victory in the presidential vote is virtually a done deal, and that the real problem the Kremlin will have is making sure that someone halfway serious runs against him so that the contest is seen as credible. On the other hand, while Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed–who was not a serious contender for the presidency–said yesterday that he would not run for the office (Russian agencies, January 4), none of the major contenders have had much to say one way or another since Boris Yeltsin’s December 31 resignation. One Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) leader, Oleg Morozov, said today that former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, the bloc’s leader, might put forward his presidential candidacy not as OVR leader, but independently. Morozov was quoted as saying that the former prime minister would make a final decision on whether to run as president in the next few days. This is something of a climb down, given that Primakov announced on the eve of the December 19 State Duma elections that he would run for president. Anonymous sources in Primakov’s inner circle were quoted today as saying that he might not run at all, given the poor showing of OVR in the December 19 contest (Russian agencies, January 5). Putin said in a televised interview yesterday evening that former President Boris Yeltsin had told him about ten days before his New Year’s resignation that he would step down to enhance the prospects of his, Putin’s, presidential campaign (ORT, Jan 4).

At least one observer, however, has suggested that the Putin juggernaut could still be derailed before the end of March. Yulia Latynina, a journalist with the newspaper Segodnya, claimed this week that the leaders of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc, Yabloko and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation are “actively” working on a plan to vote no-confidence in the government for its failure in the Chechen war and lack of an economic program. If the new State Duma were to vote no-confidence, according to Latynina’s reading of Russia’s constitution, Putin would have to resign both as prime minister and acting president, which could provoke “a full-blown constitutional crisis” and “chaos” (Moscow Times, January 5).