Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 162

Putin’s imminent signing of the decree creating the State Council yielded an intriguing report today in a leading newspaper. Moskovsky komsomolets (M-K) reported that the president’s meeting August 30 with his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, at the ex-president’s residence at Gorky-9 outside Moscow, was devoted in part to the issue of the State Council. Specifically, M-K claimed that Putin offered Yeltsin the position of first secretary on the new body, and that the post of second secretary would be offered to Yegor Stroev, governor of the Oryel region and Federation Council speaker. The Kremlin apparently decided on these appointments as a way to raise the State Council’s status and assuage those governors unhappy that the body will have only a consultative role. It was reported that Yeltsin had taken a “time out” to mull over Putin’s offer (Moskovsky komsomolets, September 1).

It is not clear what the positions of first secretary and second secretary of the State Council would entail. Some media reported this week that Putin had already offered the post of “secretary” of the State Council to former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (see the Monitor, August 31).

The newspaper Segodnya today featured an even more intriguing article concerning Putin’s meeting with Yeltsin at Gorky-9 this week. The paper, citing “informed sources,” wrote that Yeltsin retains a “strong influence” on the Kremlin, because one of the conditions attached to the transfer of presidential power to Putin at the end of last year was that he would not change the country’s “power ministers” (meaning the ministers of defense and interior, the Federal Security Service head, among others) for two years without the agreement of Boris Yeltsin and the Kremlin “Family.” According to Segodnya, two key “Family” members–Yeltsin daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and Valentin Yumashev, the former Kremlin administration chief and Yeltsin ghost-writer–remain “linked with the Kremlin.” The paper said that this condition attached to Putin’s accession explains the alleged incident last May, when the “Family” reportedly forced Putin to drop his choice for prosecutor general, Dmitri Kozak, in favor of Vladimir Ustinov (see the Monitor, May 18). Segodnya also attributed Putin’s failure to punish Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin for their public battle over military doctrine and bureaucratic turf, or to accept Sergeev’s resignation after the Kursk submarine disaster, to the conditions attached to Putin’s accession. Citing unnamed Defense Ministry sources, Segodnya wrote that Sergeev’s dismissal was strongly opposed by “Gorky-9”–that is, by Yeltsin and the “Family” (Segodnya, September 1).

The Segodnya report, even if true only in part, would certainly call into question the view–widely held by both Putin supporters and opponents–that he is now an independent figure who has decisively broken his ties with the “Family,” or that he is well on his way to becoming such a figure. What is difficult to understand–again, if the story is completely or even just partially true–is why a person who enjoys the nearly authoritarian powers conferred upon him by the Russian constitution, the support of 65 percent or more of the public and a reputation for being a strong and decisive leader, would continue to adhere to humiliating conditions imposed by people who no longer have state power, not to mention public support.