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Russia: Shakhrai Loses Job

Moscow, 30 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Sergei Shakhrai, whom Russia's President Boris Yeltsin has sacked from the post of presidential representative to the Constitutional Court, does not give the impression he regrets losing his long-time job.

On the contrary, in interviews given after the Kremlin yesterday announced his removal, Shakhrai gave the impression he was satisfied that declarations made at the weekend had obtained the desired effect, and he could now join a block of political forces that he said are preparing to support Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in the 2000 presidential election.

Shakhrai had long been known in Moscow as a Yeltsin loyalist. Observers, therefore, were surprised when, addressing a weekend congress of his almost forgotten "Party of Russian Unity and Accord," Shakhrai said that, in preparation for parliamentary and presidential elections, the party should shift its political allegiances to Luzhkov's camp. During his speech, Shakhrai also criticized the presidential administration for under-estimating the threat of presidential impeachment procedures that the lower house of parliament, State Duma, has initiated.

According to Shakhrai, deputies' demands for a parliamentary debate on Yeltsin's impeachment will get the support of at least two- thirds of Duma members, as required by the Constitution for the formal start of the impeachment procedure.

A Duma commission set up to support an impeachment motion and formed by representatives of almost all Duma factions met for the first time yesterday. Commission president Vadim Filimonov told journalists that deputies may work through the Summer to consider whether to prepare a formal motion against Yeltsin. Duma First Deputy Chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov has said the main goal of the commission is to protect the Duma against a possible dissolution. According to Filimonov, commission members are determined to complete their examination of alleged constitutional transgressions by Yeltsin by Autumn. However, observers say that the commission could quickly draft such a motion and put it on the Duma's .

Following the announcement of his removal, Shakhrai told Interfax news agency that the Kremlin had given no explanation for the decision. However, in an interview published today by the daily "Russky Telegraf," Shakhrai said the head of the presidential administration, Valentin Yumashev, had explained, in a telephone conversation, that the decision was taken "following statements made at the party congress, considered politically incorrect" by the presidential administration.

Shakhrai said in other interviews that he had "simply summed up facts and called things with their proper names." He added that "a timely warning should be accepted with gratitude, not with anger."

The Kremlin has brushed off the Duma threat of impeachment. Several past attempts have collapsed and most observers say this initiative is unlikely to succeed. Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky last week advised the Duma to focus on the examination of the government austerity plan, instead of the impeachment bid, that he said amounts to "wasting deputies' precious time."

Yeltsin and top government officials have urged the Duma to approve - smoothly, and without discussion - austerity plan measures, including draft bills aimed at increasing tax collection to fill holes in Russia's 1998 budget The Duma is scheduled to open debate on the plan tomorrow. Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev, today said he expects Duma deputies will approve most of the measures, but observers remain wary.

Sergei Markov, director of the Moscow Institute of Political Studies, tells RFE/RL that, because of the provisions of Russia's Constitution, impeachment bid is "purely theoretical," and that transgressions mentioned by deputies, including instigating the collapse of the USSR, launching the war in Chechnya or ruining the Russian economy, are unlikely to be ruled valid by the Supreme Court.

According to Russia's 1993 Constitution, if the commission set up by the Duma prepares a formal indictment and at least 300 of the Duma's 450 members support it in a vote, the upper house of parliament, Federation Council, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court would still have to confirm it in lengthy and complicated procedures.

Shakhrai, who was one of the main authors of Russia's Constitution and is well aware of the difficulties that Yeltsin foes face, told the daily "Kommersant" that "the presidential administration underestimates the impeachment threat. I have worked in the system for ten years and I have a different opinion." Shakhrai added that the start of the impeachment commission "will become a reality when the parliamentary work on the government anti-crisis project will come to a dead-end, and only the dissolution of the Duma and early parliamentary elections will unlock the situation."

According to the Constitution, a president cannot disband the lower house of the parliament, if the Duma has adopted a motion on impeachment.

According to analyst Markov, "it is clear that Yeltsin has decided some time ago to run (for a third term as president in 2000), and that his decision is opposed by influential business and financial tycoons, who are now trying to put pressure on him in different ways, including with the impeachment threat, in order to discourage him."

The daily "Kommersant," suggesting a Yeltsin decision to run again is supported by the presidential administration, argues that Shakhrai might have been dismissed, because Yeltsin's inner-circle decided Shakhrai had not been sufficiently aggressive in defending Yeltsin's position in the Constitutional Court - and might not be loyal in looming battles. Shakhrai said that the next parliamentary election, scheduled for December 1999, "will determine two leading candidates for the presidency: Luzhkov and Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed." The result, he said, "will help" the powerful 'Oligarchs,' who backed Yeltsin's re-election bid in 1996, to take a final decision on the candidate they would support," in the next election.

Shakhrai seems to have put his money on Luzhkov. According to "Russky Telegraf," the "usually careful" Shakhrai might have decided "that the Kremlin boat is sinking and the moment has come to leave it."

Shakhrai told "Kommersant" that his party will most likely compete in the next parliamentary elections, as part of a coalition of political movements close to Luzhkov. He predicted that such a coalition could gain a third of the vote.

Luzhkov has repeatedly said he will not participate in the presidential election, but few observers are inclined to believe him.

"Russky Telegraf" argued that Luzhkov is unlikely to express gratitude to Shakhrai, as well as for the support of his party.

In 1993, Shakhrai's party gained seven percent of the vote in Duma elections. But in the 1995 parliamentary election, it won less than one percent of the vote, and is not represented in the Duma, although Shakhrai won a seat in an individual district.

So far, the Moscow mayor has not commented on Shakhrai's announcement.