Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 213

Another possible explanation for President Boris Yeltsin’s re-endorsement of Vladimir Putin–one far more conspiratorial and much harder to substantiate–is that while Yeltsin has apparently been extremely jealous of popular prime ministers in the past, he and/or his inner circle are hatching plans to give him a role in Russian politics after his final presidential term ends next summer. Earlier this month, a newspaper cited Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as suggesting that Yeltsin could become the head of a Council of Advisors, modeled on the pattern of Councils of Elders in the North Caucasus, and that Yeltsin was said to like the idea (see the Monitor, November 9). This report hearkened back to theories earlier this year that Yeltsin might go for the “Milosevic variant”–that is, he might use a union between Russia and neighboring Belarus to create a new unified state in which he might serve either as head or in another high position. As political scientist Sergei Markov noted, the “Milosevic variant” is “a very attractive model for the Russian president [because] it possesses that extremely vague legal gray area which Boris Yeltsin is so fond of” (see the Monitor, June 25).

The Kremlin announced yesterday that Yeltsin and Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka will sign a treaty unifying the “military and economic spheres” of the two countries in a ceremony in the Kremlin on November 26 (Russian agencies, November 16). The treaty envisions the two countries retaining their sovereignty and it is unclear exactly how deep this union will be, or whether it will be more symbolic than substantive. It does, however, include new supranational structures, including a Supreme State Council. It is worth noting that when Slobodan Milosevic reached the end of his tenure as Serbian president and got himself elected president of the rump Yugoslav Federation, he transferred most of the real power from the former post to the latter–so much so that most observers today would be hard-pressed to name the Serbian president. If Yeltsin did the same thing, it would not matter so much to him or his inner circle whether Putin or anyone else occupied the Russian presidency.