On the other hand, it is possible that ousting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is simply one of the Kremlin inner circle’s contingency plans aimed at ensuring the protection of their power and perks after next year’s presidential election. Another possible contingency plan is what some Russian observers have called the “Milosevic variant,” by which President Boris Yeltsin retains power after his term ends next summer by getting a high post in a new Russia-Belarus union (see Monitor, November 16).
There was further evidence today that the Russia-Belarus union gambit is still under active consideration. Vitaly Tretyakov–editor of the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta, which is part of Berezovsky’s media empire–wrote a column claiming that Yeltsin’s decisions and actions now, like those of the last eighteen months, have been made to prepare for his departure from the political scene and possibly his death. In passing, however, Tretyakov claimed that he himself was present when Putin revealed Yeltsin’s plan concerning the Russia-Belarus union. “Yeltsin does not see his role in the Union with Belarus as leading that Union another 100 years and that way remaining in the Kremlin endlessly long,” Tretyakov wrote. “Along with creating the Union as such, Yeltsin sees his role only as deterring pressure from [Belarusan President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka while Putin has not yet stood up on his own two feet and before Lukashenka has ceased to be a threat to the presidential successor, both within the Union and inside Russia. This is the only role Yeltsin sees for himself” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 17).
If Tretyakov is accurately representing Yeltsin’s plans, it would strongly suggest that Yeltsin does indeed plan to become the head of the Russia-Belarus union, or to occupy another, equally powerful position in that union. Lukashenka himself has said that Yeltsin should get the first crack at the union presidency, with he, Lukashenka, serving as vice president (see the Monitor, July 12). Putin himself, when he was still head of Russia’s Federal Security Service and secretary of Yeltsin’s powerful Security Council, said Yeltsin would head the Russia-Belarus union and that both Yeltsin and Lukashenka wanted “maximum unification” between Russia and Belarus, with both states nonetheless retaining their sovereignty (see the Monitor, May 4).
Yeltsin and Lukashenka are scheduled to sign a Russia-Belarus union treaty on November 26 (see the Monitor, November 16).
THE RUSSIAN FACTOR IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.