Yeltsin’s presidency struggled from the beginning. His economic program destroyed the population’s savings with ruinous hyperinflation. After the parliamentary uprising of 1993, Yeltsin increasingly purchased political support by transferring state assets to favored cliques; insiders grew immensely powerful and wealthy even as the state grew weak and the people grew poor. Yeltsin coddled the old bureaucracy, another source of support. (Sergei Kirienko, the mayfly prime minister, told the Duma in April 1998 that state employment rolls had added 1.2 million people since the communist era.) Yeltsin ignored problems in the Caucasus in the early years of his presidency, only to launch a ghastly war in Chechnya in December 1994, that his army could not win and still fights.
But Yeltsin’s legacy includes as well a presidency with enormous powers. Under the 1993 constitution, the president can legislate by decree and under certain circumstances dismiss the parliament. Outside the constitution, the president controls the immense wealth that had been the property of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin took this property for the Kremlin by decree in 1993. Pavel Borodin, who administered these assets for Yeltsin and so should know, estimated the holdings at $600 billion (yes, billion). The income from these assets is not publicly accounted–it is a slush fund that can be used to buy political support and, perhaps, judicial decisions. The assets and the fund now pass to Putin. Call it Yeltsin’s bootlegacy.
–Through the first ten months of 1999, Russia hit nearly all the fiscal targets in its IMF agreement. The August 1998 devaluation took hold, boosting domestic production and profits at the expense of imports and lifting tax revenues. Rising oil prices generated extra tax receipts as well. The 2000 budget that parliament approved last week calls for revenues to rise to almost 15 percent of gross domestic product, two points above 1999 levels. It also projects inflation at 18 percent, with an average exchange rate of 32 rubles to the dollar. These are reasonable objectives and assumptions, but they may not be attained. The budget includes $6 billion in foreign credits that may not be forthcoming. It provides no funding for the war in Chechnya. And it provides no fallback if oil prices fall. At least one analyst, Mikhail Delyagin of the Institute for Problems of Globalization, expects the numbers will show serious deterioration in the fiscal accounts in the last quarter of 1999.
–The Federation Council by a vote of 145-1 set March 26 as the date of the presidential election. Nominating petitions must have 500,000 signatures (with no more than 70,000 from any one region) and must be filed with the Central Electoral Commission by February 13. Financial disclosure forms are also due that day. The Fatherland-All Russia coalition led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev has split, with Shaimiev’s All Russia movement backing Putin. Shaimiev called on Primakov to withdraw from the presidential race and stand instead for the speakership in the Duma.
–In the new Duma elected December 19, about 115 of the 450 seats will go to independents and nonparty deputies. That is a larger group than any party bloc. The largest party is still the Communists, with about 112 seats. The newly organized, pro-Putin Unity party is the second largest bloc, with about seventy-six seats, surpassing Fatherland-All Russia (sixty-two seats). Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, the only party to urge a negotiated settlement in Chechnya, lost half of the forty-five seats it had held in the old Duma. It is now smaller than the new Union of Right-Wing Forces, led by the young politicians associated with Yeltsin’s economic policies: Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar and Boris Nemtsov, which gained twenty-nine seats. New Duma deputies include oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, who carried their districts and will enjoy immunity from prosecution in Russia while their mandates last.