Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 50

Boris Yeltsin had an audience yesterday with Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky at the Central Clinical Hospital, where the Russian president is recovering from a bleeding ulcer. Following the meeting, Yavlinsky was vague about what he and the head of state discussed, first saying they had discussed “life,” and later in the day telling an interviewer that it was a typical political discussion, which ranged over such subjects as corruption, Russia’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and even arms control. Yavlinsky stated categorically that the issue of personnel changes in the government was not discussed (Russian agencies, NTV, March 11).

Few observers, however, seemed convinced that the president had invited Yavlinsky, a long-time critic, to visit him in the hospital merely for a chat. Indeed, several media, quoting unnamed sources, reported that Yeltsin had already met, at the end of February, with Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russian privatization who now heads Russia’s electricity grid, and was planning on meeting soon with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Dmitri Yakushkin would not confirm that any of these meetings, including the one with Yavlinsky, took place or will take place, saying: “We don’t report on all of the head of state’s meetings” (Russian agencies, March 11).

“Nezavisimaya gazeta,” which is controlled by tycoon Boris Berezovsky and has recently run a series of articles charging members of the Primakov cabinet with corruption, reported today that Yavlinsky is likely either to replace Primakov as prime minister or to be named first deputy prime minister in charge of economic and financial affairs (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 12). Political observer Leonid Radzikhovsky wrote today that Yavlinsky’s Yabloko is the only force left which can prevent the Communist Party from major victories in this year’s parliamentary elections and next year’s presidential vote, and that Yeltsin is therefore likely to replace Primakov with Yavlinsky. Another newspaper today offered a more cautious interpretation of Yeltsin’s recent and planned meetings, saying they were probably designed simply to unnerve Primakov and his team. The same paper, however, quoted an unnamed Kremlin official as saying last week that “a little present” was being prepared for Primakov in honor of his return from vacation in Sochi (Kommersant daily, March 12).

Six months ago, it was Yavlinsky who urged the Kremlin and the State Duma to pick Primakov as prime minister. The Yabloko leader, however, subsequently turned down the social affairs portfolio in the new cabinet, and while he continued to praise the prime minister for maintaining political stability, Yavlinsky quickly began to oppose the cabinet’s economic policies and to accuse two of Primakov’s top deputies, Yuri Maslyukov and Gennady Kulik, of corruption. Maslyukov, a Communist Party economist, is widely viewed as lobbying the interests of the military-industrial complex, while Kulik, a top official in the Agrarian Party, is seen as acting in the interests of that party, which represents Russia’s collective farm directors. Yavlinsky, who has reportedly been offered posts in various governments over the last seven years, has consistently said he would only accept one if he were allowed complete control over economic policy and to fill all key economic posts with members of his team.