Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 97

The State Duma approved Sergei Stepashin as Russian prime minister today by a vote of 293 to 55, with 14 abstentions. President Boris Yeltsin, who was back at the Kremlin after rumors yesterday that he had bronchitis (which the Kremlin denied), immediately signed a corresponding decree naming Stepashin as cabinet chief. The two men are set to have an extended meeting today (Russian agencies, May 19).

The vote was not a big surprise. While Stepashin served in the old Soviet-era parliament as a deputy from St. Petersburg, and has close ties with that city’s “liberal” clan–whose best known representatives include privatization architect Anatoly Chubais and former Mayor Anatoly Sobchak–he has also headed the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (now called the Federal Security Service) and, most recently, the Interior Ministry. Thus, given that he is a veteran of Russia’s special services and was deeply involved in the 1994-1996 Chechen War, many in the leftist and nationalist opposition were not irreconcilably opposed to his candidacy.

Prior to the vote, Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), had said that Stepashin, if confirmed, should not “interfere” in the parliamentary elections set for December and should investigate “to the end” all high-profile corruption cases, assist the impoverished sectors of society, and so on. Zyuganov, however, also said that Stepashin’s “readiness to carry such a heavy burden should be praised.” This was a signal that the KPRF would back him. Stepashin needed a simple majority–226 votes or more–to win confirmation (Russian agencies, May 19).

Yesterday, Stepashin met with the heads of the Duma’s factions, including the leftist-nationalist opposition. In what appears to be sops to these forces, Stepashin today proclaimed that NATO’s war against Yugoslavia was also a blow against Russia, and that “pertinent conclusions” must be drawn. He also said a state committee handling problems of the military-industrial complex should be set up, and, apparently throwing a bone to the leftist Agrarian Party, said the cabinet will include a deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture, and that the candidacy for this spot will be coordinated with members of parliament. Stepashin said Russia’s defense budget should be 3.5 percent of gross domestic product and that the import of food undermines domestic agriculture, and promised to help domestic food producers improve the situation (Russian agencies, May 19).

Stepashin also met yesterday with the head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who after the meeting announced his faction would vote in favor of Stepashin (Russian agencies, May 18). Zhirinovsky said yesterday that the LDPR would back Stepashin only if he, Zhirinovsky, received a deputy prime minister’s spot and other LDPR members got cabinet posts (see the Monitor, May 18). It is not clear what, if anything, was offered to the LDPR, and Stepashin said today that he cannot yet name those he would like to appoint to cabinet posts.

However Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky was quoted prior to the vote today as saying that his faction would not be able to give “full support” to Stepashin’s nomination (Russian agencies, May 19).