Moscow, 28 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Ailing Russian President Boris Yeltsin has given abundant proof that he hates the idea of being sidelined. However, his continuing bad health and recent political developments in Moscow indicate that Yeltsin, who turns 68 next Monday, may soon find himself squarely in that position.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov sent to the leaders of both houses of parliament and to the presidential administration a letter and a package of documents outlining his plan for a political compromise between the Kremlin, parliament and the government. The documents are aimed at ensuring political stability in the run-up to forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
The proposal included the draft of a bill expanding article 91 of the Russian Constitution and effectively offering Yeltsin an incentive for retiring before the end of his term next year. If approved, the bill would give Yeltsin full immunity from prosecution after his term ends in mid-2000 -- but also in case of early retirement -- along with a seat in the parliament's upper chamber. He also would be assured bodyguards for himself and his family, a government residence and a number of other privileges, going as far as free health coverage and transport. As it currently stands, Article 91 simply reads that "the president of the Russian Federation enjoys immunity."
Primakov's plan was leaked to the media on Tuesday and the Kremlin's hesitant reaction fueled speculation that Yeltsin was not fully aware of the initiative and did not entirely back it.
On Wednesday, presidential spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin denied reports that it had taken the Kremlin by surprise played down the significance of the documents and said they were simply the basis for further discussion.
Under the proposal, parliament, the government and the Kremlin would give up voluntarily some of their constitutional powers, until the election of a new president.
The president would promise not to use his power to dissolve the Duma and to sack the government for the rest of his term.
In return, the State Duma would agree to drop impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin. The Lower House and the government would avoid initiating a no-confidence vote in the cabinet.
According to Yakushkin, Yeltsin "would not mind" if the State Duma would drop impeachment procedures and offer him lifetime immunity. However, Yakushkin said Yeltsin is unlikely to tie up these issues with the goal of strengthening political stability.
Yakushkin said Yeltsin "does not intend to start any kind of bargaining" on the issue. He repeatedly said that Yeltsin would not agree to a surrender of his constitutional powers.
Earlier on Wednesday, Yeltsin held an unannounced meeting with Primakov at the Central Clinical Hospital where the president is recovering from a stomach ulcer. Russia's ORT Public Television showed a brief clip of the two men chatting amiably.
The meeting, and the television footage -- the first of Yeltsin broadcast since he was taken to hospital on Jan. 17 -- preceded the press conference in which Yakushkin said that "there is full mutual understanding and there is no friction between Yeltsin and Primakov."
However, Yakuskin acknowledged that only on Monday the administration had informed the president that Primakov's proposal had arrived three days before.
According to Yakushkin, the president "did n-o-t actually see" the letter and the attached documents.
Yakushkin said talks on the necessity to promote further political stability are not new and Yeltsin had asked Primakov and presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha to draw up an agreement among Russian institutions on the issue.
Primakov is scheduled to hold consultations with parliamentary leaders on his proposal next week.
Yakushkin said Yeltsin had instructed Primakov and Bordyuzha to convene a meeting of the advisory Security Council [of which Bordyuzha is secretary] to discuss the conclusions of the consultations. He said that "if there will be results, they will report to the president and he will take the final decision."
But some Russian observers question whether a weakened Yeltsin will be able to change at the last minute settlements already agreed upon. Some in the Russian media have suggested that, with the initiative, Primakov has already taken over the helm of power.
Yakushkin said Yeltsin would probably stay in hospital until the end of this week and would need a period of rehabilitation beyond that. Therefore, he added, the Security Council meeting that will take place, in his words, "very soon" will likely be chaired by Primakov and Bordyuzha.
(First of two features on Primakov's proposals on Yeltsin)