Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 125

President Yeltsin has sacked his representative to the Constitutional Court, Sergei Shakhrai, and replaced him with Mikhail Mityukov, who had held the post until Shakhrai took it over in December 1996. (Russian agencies, June 29) Shakhrai said he had been given no reason for his dismissal. He attributed it, however, to his telling a weekend meeting of the Party of Unity and Accord, which he leads, that the Duma will have no difficulty mustering the necessary 300 votes to press forward with its impeachment attempts against the president. Shakhrai also told his party that Aleksandr Lebed and Yuri Luzhkov were the two most likely candidates to replace Yeltsin as president in 2000. (Russian Radio, June 27) According to Kommersant-daily, Shakhrai went so far as to tell his party that it should throw its support behind Mayor Luzhkov. None of this would be music to Yeltsin’s ears.

Shakhrai said yesterday that Yeltsin’s decision to dismiss him was like shooting the messenger because you do not like the message. But Yeltsin likely balked at the prospect of entrusting a Luzhkov supporter to argue his case for a third presidential term before the Constitutional Court in the fall. Kommersant-daily accordingly interprets Shakhrai’s dismissal as proof positive that Yeltsin intends to run again. (Kommersant-daily, June 29) Shakhrai has never been far from power. Born in Crimea into a Cossack family in 1956, he trained as a lawyer at the University of Rostov-on-Don. Appointed Yeltsin’s legal advisor in 1991, he accompanied Yeltsin to Belaya Vezha in December 1991, where he drafted the agreement between the three presidents that dissolved the USSR. He subsequently served as deputy premier to both Yegor Gaidar and Viktor Chernomyrdin. His hawkish stance on Chechnya meant that he fell briefly into the shade after Russia’s defeat in the Chechen war. Yeltsin, however, brought him back to the Kremlin at the end of 1996. Since then, Shakhrai has acted as Yeltsin’s representative to the Constitutional Court–priding himself on the fact that he had lost almost no cases. He has also negotiated and drafted most of the power-sharing treaties between the federal center and the regions, and was last year charged with trying to reconcile the positions of the Duma and the president on the thorny issue of the private ownership of land. Shakhrai took the news of his dismissal yesterday calmly. He may have been thinking that Yeltsin’s loss could prove Luzhkov’s gain. If so, Shakhrai’s political career may be far from over.