Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 22

President Boris Yeltsin celebrates his 66th birthday tomorrow, February 1. He is already well over the average life expectancy for a Russian male, which stands at 58 years (compared with 72 years for women). According to a German intelligence report leaked to a Russian newspaper (which, while unconfirmed, is soberly written and emits a ring of authenticity), Chancellor Helmut Kohl and those who accompanied him on his recent visit to Russia were "shocked" by Yeltsin’s poor health and believe he will live no more than another 12 months. (Pravda-5, January 30) The German government therefore expects instability and a power struggle in the coming months. German intelligence foresees two possible scenarios: if Yeltsin stands down and direct elections are held for a new president, Aleksandr Lebed will win power. This accords with the most recent opinion poll taken in Russia, which showed that, if a presidential election were held now, Lebed would defeat both Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. Luzhkov, in turn, would defeat both Zyuganov and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Even Zyuganov would beat the hapless Chernomyrdin. (Interfax, January 29)

But German intelligence thinks a second possibility is more likely. According to this scenario, the constitution will be amended in order to allow the next president to be elected by a collegium formed of Duma and Federation Council deputies. Their choice could be either Viktor Chernomyrdin or Yuri Luzhkov. The price exacted by parliament for such an arrangement would be a government made up of Communists with strong representation for regional interests. German intelligence reportedly concludes that the latter scenario is preferred by the majority of Russia’s political elite. Protests by politicians excluded from the process, such as Aleksandr Lebed, would not, in their opinion, meet with strong support from the population and would be easily crushed by the security forces. (Pravda-5, January 30)

Vitali Tretyakov, influential editor of Nezavisimaya gazeta, followed a similar line of reasoning in a recent editorial, but reached a different conclusion. Tretyakov argued that the outcry from both the Russian public and the West over a departure from constitutionally mandated direct presidential elections would be strong enough to foil attempts to appoint Russia’s next president from inside. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 30)

Russia Will Recognize Chechen Election Results.