The Federation Council plans to vote on the Skuratov affair on April 21. That is just six days after a scheduled vote in the Duma on whether to impeach Yeltsin for “illegally” dissolving the Soviet Union in 1991 and making war in Chechnya in 1994-1996.

These two impending votes will apparently deter the ailing and erratic President Yeltsin from bumping bellies with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Primakov’s growing power and political dominance clearly irk the president, but they make the prime minister indispensable as Yeltsin struggles with the parliament. Last Friday, in a meeting with regional leaders, Yeltsin threatened to fire Primakov but recognized that he could not do so now. “At this point in time,” he said, “Primakov is useful. Later on we shall see.”

Yeltsin retains the constitutional power to dismiss the prime minister, and judging from Yeltsin’s record, the chaos that Primakov’s removal would create would not stop him. But Primakov is a communist with solid support from the dominant communist faction in the Duma. Around the country, polls show him the favorite in the May 2000, presidential elections. That gives him some clout with the regional leaders in the Federation Council. Primakov’s mission (and he has chosen to accept it) is to forestall an impeachment vote in the Duma and swing the Federation Council around to the president’s side on the Skuratov affair. Then, as the president said, “we shall see.”