Kremlin means “fortress,” and Yeltsin’s Kremlin is very much under siege. The Bank of New York affair could lead to frozen assets and a new cut-off of Western funds, as well as to arrests and new revelations. There is also the continuing Swiss investigation of Mabetex, a Russian-controlled Swiss company that may have served as a conduit for moving Kremlin funds to Western havens. Swiss prosecutors have frozen bank accounts of more than twenty Russians, including Kremlin administrative chief Pavel Borodin. Borodin manages billions of dollars in properties that the Kremlin took over from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Because the investigations are in the hands of Western agencies, the Kremlin cannot suppress or evade them. Investigators may not reach the headwaters of this river of corruption, but they may be able to map out several interesting and powerful tributaries.
Rising political pressure makes the investigative pressures harder to bear. Voters elect a new State Duma in December and a president in June. The Luzhkov-Primakov combination is formidable, with the popular former prime minister likely to head the ticket for Luzhkov’s Fatherland party in both elections. Primakov’s successor, Sergei Stepashin, announced last week that he will join in an odd-couple pairing with Yabloko, the pro-democracy party headed by economist Grigory Yavlinsky. Stepashin’s popularity in opinion polls has risen sharply since Yeltsin fired him a month ago. Primakov’s immediate predecessor, Sergei Kirienko, has joined with his former deputy Boris Nemtsov in an anti-Yeltsin “Union of Right Forces.”
Boris Yeltsin’s approval rating is down around 3 percent, give or take four. There is no status left in his quo. Even if the Communist Party-still by far the country’s largest political organization-fails to make gains, the chance that an honest election will return many candidates who support a continuation of Yeltsin’s legacy is nil. That is why some Moscow pundits, on no evidence but their strong gut feelings, believe elections will be rigged or canceled.