Prime Minister Vladimir Putin–the subject of recent rumors that he may be fired–received a ringing re-endorsement yesterday from President Boris Yeltsin. Prior to a meeting between the two men at Yeltsin’s Gorky-9 residence outside Moscow, Yeltsin said that he continues to support Putin as his heir apparent. The Russian head of state said that his certainty that Putin will win in next summer’s presidential election “grows every day…. Just look at his actions, analyze his moves, how logical they are, [how] intelligent, [how] strong,” Yeltsin said as he towered over the diminutive prime minister (RTR, November 14).
Yeltsin’s backing of Putin followed a week of rumors–largely in media controlled by Boris Berezovsky and those sympathetic to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov–that moves were afoot to oust Putin from his post. When Yeltsin named Putin prime minister last August, he called on Russians to vote for him in next summer’s presidential election. In October, however, Dmitri Yakushkin, Yeltsin’s spokesman, declared that it was premature to talk about a Yeltsin successor. Immediately after this Yeltsin went public to denounce speculation that he had cooled on Putin as lies. Several days later, Igor Shabdurasulov, first deputy Kremlin administration chief, said that while Yeltsin was “very impressed” with Putin’s performance, unspecified changes in the cabinet might take place after December’s parliamentary election.
Yeltsin’s re-endorsement of Putin is clearly connected to the prime minister’s ever-rising approval rating, which most observers attribute to his unapologetic prosecution of the war in Chechnya. His position has also won him public support from some of the key military commanders in the Russian armed forces, including several leading the Chechen campaign. This obviously strengthens Putin’s overall position within the ruling elite. Yeltsin’s re-endorsement may also be connected to his well-known recalcitrance under pressure and his refusal to be seen bowing to the West’s growing political criticism of the Chechen military campaign, particularly with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Istanbul looming (see the Monitor, November 12). Yeltsin confirmed today that he would lead the Russian delegation to that summit, and said as well that next year’s presidential election will take place next June 4, as stipulated by law. Yeltsin, who returned to work in the Kremlin today following an absence of several weeks, repeated that he has “supported and will strongly support Vladimir Putin as a presidential candidate” (Russian agencies, November 15).
RUSSIAN POWER BROKERS COZYING UP TO PUTIN (FOR THE MOMENT).