Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 212

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may have helped induce Boris Yeltsin’s re-endorsement of him by playing the Kremlin against its main opponent–the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) coalition headed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Indeed, Putin has maintained the image of standing apart from the unpopular Kremlin inner circle. He has not, for example, endorsed the Unity coalition, which was reportedly formed at the initiative of Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky and is headed by Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu. Putin met several times last week with Luzhkov, and over the weekend the Moscow mayor said that Putin’s “singlemindedness and persistence” were worthy of respect. Putin and Luzhkov sat together at Moscow’s Kremlin Cup tennis tournament on November 13. For his part, Primakov expressed support for Putin’s Chechnya policy and warned that unspecified forces–presumably Berezovsky and his allies–were trying to oust the prime minister (Russian agencies, November 12-13).

All of this seems to have had the effect of driving Putin’s political stock even further upward, and other groups are competing to get cut in on the dividends. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that his party, Russia is Our Home, may back Putin’s presidential bid, while former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, one of the leaders of the Union of Right-wing Forces coalition, said Saturday that the coalition would run one of its leaders for the presidency and that “it cannot be ruled out that it will be Putin.” (Russian agencies, November 13). Last week, United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, who is one of the Union of Right-wing Forces and its presumed main financial resource, charged that a plan for a cease-fire in Chechnya floated by Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky would “stab the Russian army in the back” and allow “militant gangsters” to escape justice (Russian agencies, November 12).

It should be noted, however, that while Putin remains the man of the hour, eight months are a long time in politics–particularly the Russian variety. If something happens on the ground in Chechnya to mar the “success” of the military campaign there, or if Western disapproval of the campaign has serious economic repercussions, including a refusal to release further International Monetary Fund credits or even sanctions, Putin’s military triumph might turn into a political liability. It should also be noted that some Russian observers, including Moskovskie novosti political-military analyst Aleksandr Zhilin, continue to insist that the Kremlin inner circle–meaning Boris Berezovsky, presidential daughter and adviser Tatyana Dyachenko, among others–are trying to get Putin removed (Moscow Times, November 13). Likewise, one of the main pro-Luzhkov, anti-Berezovsky daily newspapers wrote this weekend that the “family Politburo–another term for the Kremlin inner circle–had already taken the collective decision to remove Putin (Moskovsky komsomolets, November 14).

The other–less likely–possibility is that the Russian political elite has come to a consensus that a Putin presidency, all things considered, is the only realistic option for maintaining as much of the current political–and, more important, financial–status quo as possible in the post-Yeltsin era.