Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 199

Like the politicians, many in the media are already acting as if Yeltsin has been replaced by Primakov. “Vremya-MN” noted in today’s edition (October 28) that the prime minister, in his visit earlier this week to Vienna to fill in for the ailing president, was accompanied not only by Sergei Prikhodko, Yeltsin’s foreign policy adviser, but Vladimir Shevchenko, the chief of presidential protocol who has provided his service only to two men–Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev. Primakov’s Vienna meetings, the newspaper noted, were recorded for posterity by Yeltsin’s personal photographers. According to “Vremya-MN,” Primakov became “vice president de facto” during the Vienna trip (Vremya-MN, October 28).

The sense that Yeltsin is inexorably fading from the political scene has been heightened by his own administration. In an interview Monday night (October 26) aired on NTV Television, deputy presidential administration chief Oleg Sysuev said openly that Yeltsin should begin taking a less active roll in running the country. He said Yeltsin should not try to “replace the government” by dealing with nuts-and-bolts economic problems, but should instead fulfill his main responsibilities–“to be the guarantor of the constitution, openness to the world community, the integrity of the Russian Federation, freedom of speech and the press.” Sysuev declared that “a period of responsibility” for the economy by the cabinet and the parliament had begun (NTV, October 26).

Sysuev’s remarks give weight to rumors that key members of Yeltsin’s inner circle–meaning, primarily, presidential chief of staff Valentin Yumashev–and possibly the president’s wife Naina and daughter Tatyana, have signed on to the idea of having Yeltsin remain in office but in an increasingly ceremonial role. “Izvestia” lashed out at Yumashev and the presidential administration for not acting in Yeltsin’s interests. The newspaper wrote that if, during the period leading up to Yeltsin’s heart surgery in 1996, his administration used “brazen lies” to cover up the health problems, at least it deflected criticism from the head of state. The administration at that time was headed by Anatoly Chubais. Today, the newspaper argued, the presidential staff treats Yeltsin like “a patient–and an unbearable, obstreperous one at that” (Izvestia, October 27). The newspaper “Segodnya,” however, warned today that the fact that Primakov’s de facto presidency is getting wide support from the political elite could be the prime minister’s downfall, given that Yeltsin does not like it when is power is challenged (Segodnya, October 28). Many observers attribute Viktor Chernomyrdin’s sacking by Yeltsin earlier this year to the fact that Yeltsin saw him increasingly as a political rival.