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Russia: Yeltsin Has Lost Power, Analysts Say

Moscow, 25 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Most analysts in Moscow say that with the appointment of Viktor Chernomyrdin as acting Prime Minister, President Boris Yeltsin has effectively lost power. Some of these analysts eve say that the way the government changed amounts to the de-facto end of Yeltsin's political career.

Scenarios forecasting how and when Yeltsin could step aside differ, but some analysts and politicians say early presidential elections cannot be ruled out. The contest is scheduled for June 2000.

In a televised address to the nation, Yeltsin suggested that Chernomyrdin is his heir apparent. Yeltsin said this choice reflects the "need to ensure the continuity of authority in the year 2000 ."

Russian media reported today that other candidacies may have been under consideration. They are said to have included Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr Lebed. But, according to most reports, the choice of Chernomyrdin was dictated by his strong ties to the communists-led parliamentary opposition and to the so-called "oligarchs" -- businessmen dominating Russia's economy.

The daily Novye Izvestia said today that "Yeltsin is different now from the president we saw in March, (eds: when he dismissed Chernomyrdin)." The paper said that: "in March Yeltsin probably still had hopes to run in a presidential election for the third time." But, Novye Izvestia emphasized that the financial crisis "have convinced Yeltsin that he could not possibly be re-elected in 2000"

Novye Izvestia is controlled by CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky, the man seen by many in Moscow as playing a key role in Chernomyrdin's return to the government. Berezovsky maintains close ties to Kremlin administration head Valentin Yumashev and Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko.

Analysts now suggest that, by accepting Chernomyrdin's candidacy, Yeltsin aims to make sure that a man with the background of a communist party official similar to his own succeeds him, giving him a guarantee that he and his family and friends would not risk being put at a disadvantage in case he steps down.

Sergei Kolmakov, of the Fond Politika think-tank, told the English-language Moscow Times that "Yeltsin's entourage convinced him" that this was the right step. Kolmakov added that, with Chernomyrdin back in government, Yeltsin could take a back seat during the next two years, carrying out ceremonial functions as head of state, while Chernomyrdin would take care of state affairs and strengthen his positions in view of the next elections.

Vyacheslav Novikov, president of the Politika center, said that "sacking Kiriyenko's government after having fought so long to obtain the parliamentary approval, Yeltsin de-facto recognized his failure" to cope with the current situation. But Novikov said that the possibility of early presidential elections is "minimal, because power is the center point of Yeltsin's very life"

Others disagree. Former Yeltsin aide Georgy Satarov told Interfax today that, with Chernomyrdin in government "early presidential elections become an economic necessity." According to Satarov, Russia's desperate financial situation "makes inevitable to lead a tough economic policy, but only a government that is not dependent on the political risk of future elections can do it."

Sergei Markov, head of the Association of Political Consultants, agreed. He told RFE/RL that, if Chernomyrdin's candidacy is approved by the Duma through an agreement to form a coalition government, the new prime minister would "de-facto take power, and so what would he need Yeltsin for?"

Markov said that: "Yeltsin is giving indications that he might voluntarily agree to such a scenario (of accepting a mere ceremonial role for himself). His family, concerned over his precarious health, has wanted him to step down for a long time." Markov added that if Yeltsin received guarantees that he would be able to continue to play a role of the "father of the nation," he could be convinced that such a step is acceptable.

According to the Russian Constitution, if the head of state is unable to carry out his functions for health reasons, prime minister assumes power and new presidential elections are to take place in three months. Chernomyrdin is seen as scarcely able to win a popular vote in a democratic presidential election. Recent opinion polls showed his popularity in single digits.

Markov said Chernomyrdin has no popular support now but his aides are sure that, once in power, Chernomyrdin could gather the necessary financial and media support to carry out a successful campaign.