Washington, July 1 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris
Yeltsin's efforts to put together a winning electoral coalition have
led him to reshuffle and expand his team to include a variety of
individuals who are saying very different and often contradictory
Such behaviour is typical at the end of almost any political
campaign: each candidate is interested not only in reassuring his
basic supporters that he is with them but also in sending signals to
potential supporters that he offers them something as well.
But in Russia today, such actions by the Russian president reopen a
question often asked in the past: just who really does speak for
Since the first round of the presidential vote on June 16, Yeltsin
has brought in as head of his Security Council retired General
Aleksander Lebed, a man who this week has displayed a kind of crude
Russian nationalism that will likely offend as many as it attracts.
At the same time, the Russian President has sacked his unpopular
defense minister and three close advisors. But the impact of their
departures may be more apparent than real: there were suggestions in
the Russian and Western press at the end of last week that at least
some of these shadowy figures may continue to be influential.
Moreover, Yeltsin has distanced himself from the reformer Anatoliy
Chubais even as he talks to reformer Grigoriy Yavlinskiy about
forming some kind of block of democratic forces. And while that is
going on, Yeltsin's own Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has had
conversations with communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov about the
possibilities of cooperation between the two.
Because each of these men has taken very different and even
contradictory positions on a number of key issues -- subsidies for
agriculture, compensation for inflation losses, and Russian policy
toward her neighbors and the West, to name but three -- it is
increasingly difficult to say just what Yeltsin does stand for or
where he will take the country after his probable reelection.
That difficulty is compounded by Yeltsin's frequent change of course over the past five years.
But even more disturbing from a policy perspective is the Russian
president's tendency to keep around himself people he has supposedly
removed for good and to distance himself quickly from those he has
only recently brought on board.
Thus, in the past week, Yeltsin has indicated that he remains close
to several of the people that he and Lebed had purged from the
presidential administration only a few days earlier. And he may now
be forced to distance himself from the recently appointed Lebed now
that the latter has said some things that have disturbed many in both
Russia and the West.
Again, there are several possible readings of just what this means. On the one hand, this pattern may simply indicate that Yeltsin is working toward a kind of consensus typical of democracies and that the evident messiness simply reflects the difficulties of the Russian transition from the past.
On the other, it may indicate a style of rule that draws much from
Russian traditions of the good tsar who keeps his bureaucrats
battling among themselves in order to maintain his own authority.
The answer probably lies somewhere in between, but one thing is
certain: the vote this week will not resolve it, nor will it enable
anyone in Russia or in the West to know just where Yeltsin will be
heading in the future.