Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 84

Despite the Primakov cabinet’s “success” in winning a promise of new credits from the IMF, rumors in Moscow persist that the Kremlin is mulling over who will replace the prime minister. Several media have noted that earlier this week, when President Boris Yeltsin fired First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov and replaced him with Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, he held a meeting in the Kremlin with Nikolai Aksenenko, Russia’s railroads minister. Aksenenko, while one the government’s more obscure top officials, is known to be a member of Yeltsin’s inner circle, and is rumored to be very close to Roman Abramov, the head of the Sibneft oil company, which is part of the business empire of former CIS executive secretary Boris Berezovsky. Yeltsin reportedly considered Aksenenko last year as a candidate to replace Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister.

In a sign that old-style Kremlinology is alive and well, one report today noted that Yeltsin recently awarded Aksenenko with a third-degree order for service to the Fatherland. “Serving governors and ministers traditionally receive this order as a present marking their 50th birthday or some other significant date,” the account read. “But, according to connoisseurs of the awards business, if the president is not favorably inclined toward the recipient, [he] gets a fourth-degree order, but if the president is favorably inclined, [the recipient] gets a third degree order. From this comes the conclusion that Yeltsin is favorably inclined toward Aksenenko. And if [Yeltsin] is favorably inclined, then he can appoint.”

The paper also said that–other than Aksenenko–the other likely candidates to replace Primakov are Sergei Stepashin, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov and Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin. Aksenenko’s advantage, it said, is that–having been in office for two years, under three premiers–he has proved himself to be “apolitical;” furthermore, he has not been dogged by rumors about “accounts in Switzerland” (Segodnya, April 30).