Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 19

Yevgeny Primakov and Boris Yeltsin held a “prolonged meeting” yesterday at the Central Clinical Hospital, where the Russian president is recovering from a bleeding gastric ulcer. During its news broadcasts yesterday, Russian Public Television aired a brief, soundless fragment of the president and prime minister talking. After the meeting, presidential spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin denied that there was bad blood between Yeltsin and Primakov over the prime minister’s recent proposal that the various branches of power refrain from actions which would “destabilize” the political situation. Primakov suggested that the president forego his rights to dissolve the Duma and/or fire the cabinet, and that the Duma end its attempt to impeach Yeltsin. Yakushkin said that while “certain people” have been trying to “drive a wedge” between them, Yeltsin and Primakov are “working in close contact” and “highly respect each other’s stance.” Yakushkin said that Yeltsin had ordered Primakov and Kremlin chief of staff Nikolai Bordyuzha to convene a meeting of the advisory Security Council to examine ways to ensure Russia’s political stability, including Primakov’s proposal (Russian agencies, January 27).

Despite the appearance of comity, there are indications that Yeltsin was not at all pleased by Primakov’s demarche–which included a draft law outlining privileges and benefits for ex-presidents–and that the prime minister’s position is now wobblier as a result. Yakushkin repeated that Yeltsin is opposed to what is, in essence, the heart of Primakov’s proposal, saying the president’s “principled position” is that he has not “renounced his constitutional rights” and has no intention of doing so. The presidential press secretary also refused to say who initiated yesterday’s meeting, suggesting that Yeltsin had essentially called Primakov on the carpet (Kommersant daily, January 28).

“Izvestia” reported today that Yeltsin in fact knew nothing about Primakov’s demarche in advance, despite subsequent statements by Kremlin officials that the president was informed (Izvestia, January 28). “Segodnya” reported today that Primakov’s demarche was the subject of unprecedented all-day meetings in the Kremlin on January 25-26, and that Yeltsin was in “a fury” over his prime minister’s actions. According to this version, what saved Primakov from immediately sharing the fate of Viktor Chernomyrdin last year–who was dumped by Yeltsin after overtly campaigning for the presidency–were fears that his ouster would lead to a crisis worse than the one which accompanied last August’s ruble devaluation. Instead, according to “Segodnya,” Yeltsin has shown Primakov “his place.” Another newspaper, citing unnamed sources, wrote today that the only thing which saved Primakov was that Yeltsin is still unwell, but added that Primakov’s removal may simply have been postponed (Kommersant daily, January 28).

Today’s issue of a Russian daily newspaper featured a front page photograph of Yeltsin scowling at Primakov during yesterday’s meeting. The paper, which noted that yesterday’s television clip of Yeltsin was the first appearance of the president in a long time, quipped: “One has the impression that another couple of initiatives for ‘stabilizing the political situation in Russia’ and the presidential ulcer will be healed completely” (Segodnya, January 28). Yakushkin said yesterday that Yeltsin will probably be released from the hospital by the end of this week, but will have to undergo a course of rehabilitation (Moscow Times, January 28).

It should be noted that the newspapers which reported today that Primakov is in political trouble–“Izvestia,” “Kommersant daily” and “Segodnya”–have generally been hostile to his government’s policies.