Russia's Federation Council met today amid rumors of possible political upheaval. On the official agenda for the upper house of parliament was state security after the recent wave of bomb explosions. But as RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports from Moscow, some members wanted the council to ask President Boris Yeltsin to resign.
Moscow, 17 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The recent bomb explosions in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia have killed some 300 people. Russian authorities have been calling for the country's forces to consolidate in the face of a general terrorist threat, and Russia's upper house of parliament convened an extraordinary session today to discuss what measures to take. But as the Federation Council session opened, questions of the country's leadership took precedence.
The session opened with several governors asking for the council to add a new item to its agenda. They wanted the chamber to vote on a non-binding appeal to President Boris Yeltsin to leave office. To no one's surprise, the regional governors rejected the proposal and no such vote was held.
But that the initiative was made at all is a reflection of how all-pervasive the question of Kremlin leadership has become in Moscow today. The initiative was prompted by a single remark from a Russian politician to the U.S. press, a remark that caused a whirlwind of rumors predicting upheavals in the Kremlin.
It started yesterday in The New York Times. In a news analysis, the paper quoted Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroyev as saying he thought Yeltsin should leave office. Stroyev told the newspaper, "If Yeltsin left today, it would be better for the people and political parties, and it would be better for him, too." Speaking to the Russian press yesterday, Stroyev softened his remarks but did not deny them.
Such a blunt statement from a top parliamentary figure statement was stunning. It came as Moscow has been buzzing with all sorts of rumors and about whether Yeltsin will stay or go. The media have been feeding these rumors, quoting unnamed sources. Some newspapers speculate that Yeltsin will resign. Others say he will undergo surgery next week.
One theory says Yeltsin will step down to pave the way for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to take control. Another says that, on the contrary, Putin is about to be sacked. Still other rumors say Yeltsin's successor will be former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov or General Aleksandr Lebed.
But Stroyev's participation in this debate gives it more weight. The timing of Stroyev's remark, as well as his stature in Russian politics, make his support for Yeltsin's departure particularly influential.
The timing is important because Russian authorities are scrambling to convince public opinion that the Kremlin, the government and law-enforcement agencies are leading a coordinated anti-terrorist strategy.
Stroyev's reputation makes his outspokenness surprising. He is usually a cautious politician, and was not previously seen as an opponent of Yeltsin. He was reportedly even considered for the post of prime minister last year.
Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Fund, says that Stroyev's remark illustrates the heightening tension in Russian politics. In Petrov's words: "It shows that the political crisis in the country and the fight for power has entered quite an acute phase, that even the most careful politicians choose not to wait and choose to clearly demonstrate their position."
Reformist politician Yuri Boldyrev responded to Stroyev's statement by saying that Yeltsin has lost all control over Russia. He told RFE/RL: "The president is absolutely incapable of action. [Russia's] problems [won't] be solved under this president."
Today, some of the governors in the Federation Council -- many communist-oriented -- supported the idea of voting on a statement asking Yeltsin to leave. A similar statement had been supported by about 20 governors last year.
But other governors criticized Stroyev's statement as ill-timed. Long-time Yeltsin opponent Aleksandr Rutskoi, the governor of the Kursk region, said: "Such a statement is not a remedy [to the present situation]. That's all we still need -- throwing over the president at a time like this. The country would then become a complete mess." And another Yeltsin critic, St. Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev, also said that an initiative calling on Yeltsin's departure would not have any positive effect.