Amidst press rumors that Boris Yeltsin had decided to adopt a softer line vis-a-vis Yevgeny Primakov and his cabinet, the Russian president put on one of his classic performances yesterday–one which suggested he has not softened his line at all.
Yeltsin presided over a meeting called in the Kremlin to discuss Russia’s plans for celebrating the 2000th anniversary of Christianity and, at the meeting’s start, looked up from his prepared text and scowled at the assembled officials for a good twenty seconds, after which he growled: “They are sitting the wrong way. Stepashin is the first deputy,” after which the Russian president commanded Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, whom Yeltsin last week appointed as first deputy prime minister, to move closer to him. Later in the meeting, Yeltsin interrupted Primakov while he was reading a prepared statement on the 2000th anniversary celebrations, saying that the plan had “not been coordinated by Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II, who was seated next to Yeltsin. Primakov defended himself, saying that the final version of the plan would “include all these points” (NTV, May 5).
For some, Yeltsin’s performance was a sign that he plans, as rumored earlier, to replace Primakov with Stepashin. Indeed, Vladimir Zhirinovsky–the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, who some believe has become a Kremlin stalking horse–predicted yesterday that Yeltsin could change premiers around May 10 or a little later, and that Stepashin could get the nod (Russian agencies, May 5).