Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 152

Russian media, as usual with attribution to various unnamed high-placed sources, are reporting that the upper reaches of the government are on the verge of a serious shakeup. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s position has reportedly been put under threat by the announcement that Fatherland, the electoral movement founded by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, and All Russia, the movement made up of regional leaders and led by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, had agreed to form a coalition (see the Monitor, August 5). According to an account published today, President Boris Yeltsin cancelled a planned meeting yesterday, the subject of which was ostensibly the worsening situation in the North Caucasus. The real reason, however, was to meet with Stepashin, during which the prime minister was to have been fired, his sin having been that he reacted too “apolitically” to the threat posed by the Luzhkov-Shaimiev coalition, refusing to go along with the Kremlin’s attempts to put him into the bloc as a way of splitting it. Indeed, Georgy Boos, the former tax minister who now heads the electoral headquarters of Fatherland-All Russia, said yesterday that the Kremlin had tried to force the bloc to take Stepashin as its leader, but was rebuffed (Segodnya, August 6).

In any case, Yeltsin did not pull the trigger on Stepashin, and now an alternative scenario has appeared, according to which Yeltsin will instead fire Aleksandr Voloshin, the Kremlin administration chief who has been playing the role of the heavy in the Kremlin’s battles with Luzhkov and the Media Most group. Should this scenario come to pass, Voloshin’s likely replacement would be Vladimir Putin, director of the Federal Security Service and secretary of the Security Council, Yeltsin’s powerful advisory body (Vremya MN, August 6). Putin has also been put forth as Stepashin’s likely replacement (see the Monitor, August 5).

There are real indications that it is Voloshin, not Stepashin, who may take the fall for the Kremlin’s failure to thwart the merger of Fatherland and All Russia. Anatoly Chubais, head of the United Energy Systems electricity monopoly and an influential Kremlin insider, reportedly had meetings at the Kremlin yesterday, during which he made the case that it would be “suicide” for the Kremlin to step up its attacks on Media Most and remove Stepashin, who, Chubais reportedly argued, is the only potential successor to Yeltsin with a chance to win the presidential elections. Mikhail Lesin, Russia’s new press minister, who had a meeting with Yeltsin yesterday, reportedly urged that the Kremlin come to an understanding with Media Most (Kommersant, August 6).

As always, the ultimate decision on which heads will roll, if any, rests with Yeltsin, making a well-founded prediction impossible. It does look likely, however, that either Voloshin or Stepashin will soon be looking for other work.