Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 198

President Boris Yeltsin’s spokesman made an effort yesterday to quell the persistent rumors that the tycoon Boris Berezovsky is playing a major role in Kremlin politics. In an interview with Moscow’s Otkrytoye Radio (Open Radio), Dmitri Yakushkin characterized as a “gross exaggeration” the widely held view that Berezovsky controls Russia’s political processes and denied that Yeltsin has any contact with Berezovsky. “I think [Yeltsin] does not think of [Berezovsky] at all and does not know him well,” the presidential press secretary said, adding that Yeltsin is in regular contact with Anatoly Chubais, Russia’s privatization architect, who currently heads United Energy Systems, the country’s electricity grid (Russian agencies, October 26).

Yakushkin’s comments yesterday followed speculation over the weekend that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin might have lost Yeltsin’s support and thus might be in political trouble. Yesterday Yeltsin, who in August designated Putin as his preferred successor, publicly gave Putin a vote of confidence (see the Monitor, October 25).

In Russia, however–more so than elsewhere–the real power hierarchy often bears little resemblance to the formal one. The actual state of affairs within that hierarchy is often the mirror image of the one portrayed in official public statements. This would explain why Yeltsin’s public statement supporting Putin has convinced few observers. Indeed, the very fact that Yeltsin felt the need to re-endorse Putin has only reinforced the suspicion that the prime minister may be in trouble. One newspaper reported today that while Putin is not in imminent danger of removal, there is a cloud over him, and his premiership could come to an end in the immediate aftermath of December’s parliamentary election. The account suggested that Berezovsky might like to replace Putin with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (Moskovsky komsomolets, October 26). On the other hand, a second paper quoted unnamed Kremlin officials as saying that Putin was not in trouble with Yeltsin. That paper, however, is owned by Berezovsky (Kommersant, October 26).

Kremlin spokesman Yakushkin also stressed during yesterday’s radio interview that Yeltsin is committed to leaving office following next June’s presidential election, saying that “it is truly a matter of honor” for Yeltsin (Russian agencies, October 26). Yakushkin was probably reacting to an October 25 discussion on NTV television’s Itogi program among former Prime Ministers Sergei Kirienko, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Sergei Stepashin, and the program’s host Yevgeny Kiselev. Referring to the alleged moves to undermine Putin, Kiselev said rumors persist that the Kremlin could announce a state of emergency. The three prime ministers, however, said that they believed that Yeltsin would do his constitutional duty and leave office, and that the presidential election would take place as scheduled (NTV, October 24). The three, however, did not seem to be completely convinced that these things–particularly the holding of the election–would take place.