Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 143

While attention is focused on the impending parliamentary race, the question of who will be Russia’s head of state after next year’s presidential vote remains a major focus of attention. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who finished up a tour of various Russian regions over the weekend prior to heading for Washington, told reporters while in Vladivostok that he had no plans to run in the presidential elections, which are set for June 2000 (Russian agencies, July 24). Despite Stepashin’s denials, there is increasing speculation that he is being groomed as Yeltsin’s successor, and that his trip across Russia and to Washington is connected to this. Indeed, Stepashin himself has been somewhat contradictory about his political plans, saying that it was “too early to say now” that he would be a candidate. Asked if he ruled out the possibility of running, he answered: “I am 47 years old and have no plans to retire” (Washington Post, July 25).

On the other hand, there are also persistent rumors that one faction of the Kremlin inner circle would like to make First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko Yeltsin’s heir apparent, and thus that Stepashin’s days as prime minister are numbered. Stepashin dismissed these rumors, saying that they were inevitable “in a situation of political instability with elections coming up” (Washington Post, July 25).

President Boris Yeltsin, meanwhile, interrupted his vacation today to visit the Central Clinical Hospital, his second medical check in a week. His spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin said that it was “quite natural that the president is trying to use his vacation time for medical checkups” and said Yeltsin would have a number of “working meetings” tomorrow (Russian agencies, Reuters, July 26). Some media today cited rumors that Yeltsin is again seriously ill, though they cited no evidence for this (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 26). On July 23, Yakushkin denied rumors that Yeltsin might use a union with Belarus to remain in power, saying that the president “firmly intends to quit politics following his second term in office” (Russian agencies, July 23). Former Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov claimed that in March 1996, Yeltsin wanted to cancel presidential elections, dissolve the parliament and ban the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, but dropped the idea after then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and other officials expressed doubts, and Kulikov himself warned Yeltsin the security forces would not be able to prevent a violent backlash (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 23).