Politics, Russian Style

1998 > Russia

Russia knows only one type of politics: hardball

The Big bad Boy Himself

Boris on a good day
Victor though he could hide in front of the flag
A man with a Plan

the spot everyone what's to get to
What they are fighting for
what I think about the whole political scene

And reality skis away again
Today I went home at lunch to watch Boris Nikolivitch
Yeltsin’s midday address to the nation, announcing his dismissal of his
entire Cabinet (the executive branch). His speech was very general, just
saying that his cabinet wasn’t quick enough in fixing the economy, so he
was sacking everyone.

The setting was very telling, like Brezhnef and Kruzchief, and
sometimes Gorby, he was seated at a desk with a lot of phones. He was
there to look like he was in charge, but I could tell by the multi line
phone, it was the secretary’s desk! A Russian flag in the background,
and oddly, a signer for the deaf superimposed in the foreground, gave it
an odd touch. He was visibly reading a script, and when he finished, he
looked a little lost. The wooden appearance, and the obvious cut in the
tape, did not add credibility to him as the leader of the country.

Victor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin’s (the ex-Prime Minister) conference
at 1 pm was just the opposite. He strolled into a Western styled
conference center, gave his speech, where he stressed continuity (all
the old faces will be rehired, but in new places) and economic progress.
Victor spoke his address from memory, smiled, and even joked once,
plainly a man happy with his sacking.

Victor looked like the man in control. His ambition to be the next
Prez is the worst kept secret in Russia, and now he is free to campaign.
The acting Prime Minister, a guy no one has heard of, was put in his
spot strategically. Victor is betting Yeltsin will not make it to 2000,
the next election, so if he dies early, and the unknown is Prez,
everyone will want an election. With Victor already running, he is in
the catbird seat.

Oh, Victor is putting together the new Cabinet. Talk about a power
play! Now he can camping on the ability to be a powerful man in the
current cabinet, and the next prez. Long live the New King!

Post Publication Addition

After I wrote this page, a Russian friend sent the following
email, rebuffing my views. She may be on to something here!

The Russian View

By Lena

Normal temperature conditions are incompatible with Russia. This
April cold weather stimulated a great talent of a boilerman in our
‘Kremlin peacock’ (Boris Nikolivitch). He decided to warm
up the country’s political life. But the splash of boiled water hit not
only bureaucrats how it was meant to, but also common people.

The principle of the most events is not WHAT? is being done ( the
procedure of the government’s resignation is worked out in any civilized
country )but rather HOW? and WHAT FOR? Constitution and legislation are
being exploited in my homeland.

The ‘tailors’ of every new state leader alter any juridical
or constitutional suit to the size of their boss. With every day of
Boris’ political life (or near death) his suits are getting tighter and

At the moment we are the witnesses of the full-scaled power
redistribution, the results of which will change a lot of things
fundamentally in future. The present petty tyrant doesn’t fit into any
of the possible variants. Being a half-witted, super-ambitious person he
is extraordinary attractive as a ‘screen’ for the various
manipulations, but his habits of an ‘unfaithful wife’ repelled
many smart, shrewd and patriotic-minded manipulators. The pathological
consistency, with which he cheats on his every team, keep the grand
economic and political powers away from him.

He reached the top in illusions creating and soon the people was
taking his every word of promise as one that doesn’t go beyond the
bounds of this genre of illusion. They don’t believe him and they don’t
believe in him. And this means that he himself becomes an unreal

We can talk about the real characters a little bit. One is the Mayor
of Nizhniy Novgorod whose sad saga shows how a person replace the law.
(The elected mayor is a convicted criminal and is under investigation
for fraud while in his last post.) Victor Klementev was tossed into jail
to be isolated from the election. Yeltsin cannot make our life better
but his ambitions don’t let him give a chance to other people. The Mayor
of Nizhniy Novgord may be one of the variants of future power. And the
matter is not if it is better or worse? But it is possible.

You are writing about Chernomyrdin. My country has already forgotten
who he is. Thank you for remembering about the deceased friend of
Mr.President. But you cannot remember all of them!

Moskovskiy Komsomolets, March 24, 1999

‘Five Lessons From Stepanych’

Article by Mikhail Rostovskiy:

Three Hundred and Sixty Five Days Without Chernomyrdin

If a poll on the role of this day in history had been carried out in
the streets of Moscow yesterday, the majority of citizens would surely
have just shrugged. Yet exactly a year ago a significant event took
place in Russia: It lost Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was ‘five minutes
away from becoming president.’ Currently, press and television
journalists are again thronging Viktor Chernomyrdin’s news conferences.
But the attitude toward his speeches is completely different than a year
ago. At that time each one of his slips of the tongue was literally
dissected under a microscope.

And now people are treating Stepanych as yesterday’s hero, today’s
mediocre politician, or a candidate for the post of chairman of the
Gazprom board of directors at best. Perhaps this indifference is
completely justified. Yet it is incorrect to forget about Viktor
Stepanovich’s existence either. One can learn many useful lessons from
his fate…

Lesson No. 1. Back on 1 March 1998 Chernomyrdin was almost the
main candidate for the Kremlin throne. It was impossible to make one’s
way through important petitioners in his reception office. And those who
had doubts about the presidential chances of ‘Chernomor’ were
ridiculed in newspapers. Currently, these same newspapers are mocking
the presidential ambitions of Viktor Stepanych, and he himself is
described as a man ‘who has become entangled in time and the
political area.’ Meanwhile, according to eyewitnesses Chernomyrdin
himself has changed extremely little during this year. Only the name of
his post has changed. This, however, has turned out to be enough to give
up for lost his brilliant Kremlin future. Current presidential
candidates should not forget this.

Lesson No. 2. Exactly a year ago the Russia Is Our Home [NDR] bloc had the reputation of a scandalous though still quite decent
outfit. In any event, few people had doubts about its chances to be
represented in the next parliament, and in terms of the number of
functionaries living in Our Home Chernomyrdin’s party could compete only
with the late CPSU. Currently, even the leader of Chernomyrdin’s
deputies, Vladimir Ryzhkov, openly says that the NDR stands almost no
chance of overcoming the 5-percent threshold. Of course, nobody is
interested in Our Home anymore. Yet the NDR is by no means the only
party built according to the principle of uniting its members not around
ideology but a promising official. It would not be a bad thing for
current presidential candidates to think about this as well.

Lesson No. 3. That the political situation would become much
more unstable without Chernomyrdin was clear back on the day of his
dismissal. Kiriyenko was a political lightweight, and the Kremlin’s
clout alone evidently was not enough to ensure stability. The
president’s retinue could not but realize the evident danger. Still,
this had no impact whatsoever on [Yeltsin’s daughter] Tatyana
Borisovna’s decision to finish with Chernomyrdin. We are still using
logic in our current attempts to predict the Kremlin’s behavior in the
future. But is it not a time to understand that the words
‘logic’ and ‘Yeltsin’s retinue’ too often turn out
to be incompatible?

Lesson No. 4. When Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed to return to the
White House in August 1998, he was absolutely convinced of the support
of the Duma and other bigwigs of Russian politics. During his first term
of office he eventually always managed to reach an agreement with the
denizens of Okhotnyy Ryad, and this time Zyuganov himself was assuring
him of his ardent support. Why did everything turn out the other way
around? The second rise of Stepanych gave him too many advantages in the
fight for the presidential office. So the wolf pack of candidates torn
to pieces their comrade who had shot ahead of them too much.

And finally, here is the last lesson, but not for everyone.
‘We Have Had It! Down With the Government!’ — this was the
most popular slogan at the end of the last winter. During the past year
as many as four cabinets have been replaced in Russia, and now people at
the Kremlin say to their utmost that it would not be a bad thing to
replace the government once again. For some reason, however, no changes
for the better are taking place in the country. Moreover, the situation
in the economy is becoming worse and worse. And nobody is taking the
blame for the crisis. Ministers from every government have held their
post for no longer than a few months. So perhaps it is indeed time to
put an end to the personnel disorder at the White House…?

March 5, 1999, Reuters News Wire, via Johnson’s Russia List

Chronology of political shakeups under Yeltsin
March 5, 1999

MOSCOW – Russian President Boris Yeltsin telephoned other ex-Soviet
leaders Friday to seek their support for sacking Boris Berezovsky, the
businessman who is Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth of
Independent States. Yeltsin has often sacked key officials and close
allies with little prior notice. Following is a chronology of important
shakeups during Yeltsin’s rule:

June 16, 1991 – Yeltsin becomes Russia’s first directly
elected president, beating Communist and nationalist candidates.

August – Yeltsin plays a key role in putting down a hard-line
coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and soon eclipses his

Oct 29 – Yeltsin announces plans for radical reforms for
Russia with a team headed by little-known economist Yegor Gaidar.

Dec 14, 1992 – Yeltsin, now the leader of a post-Soviet
independent Russia and facing opposition to Gaidar’s reforms from a
conservative parliament, drops Gaidar and replaces him with former gas
industry boss Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Sept 21, 1993 – Yeltsin dissolves parliament, accusing it of
blocking constitutional reforms and elections. Rebel deputies barricade
themselves inside the White House parliament building.

Oct 4 – Supporters of parliament stage an armed attack on the
Moscow television station. The following day Yeltsin uses tanks to storm
the White House and put down the rebellion.

Dec 12 – Voters approve a constitution giving Yeltsin
increased powers. They select a new lower house of parliament, the State
Duma, at an election in which nationalists do well.

Oct 11, 1994 – The rouble nose-dives in a currency crisis.
”Black Tuesday” forces central bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko to
resign, Yeltsin sacks acting finance minister Sergei Dubinin.

Dec 17, 1995 – Communists win over a third of Duma seats.

Jan 1996 – Yeltsin ousts several liberals including
privatization chief Anatoly Chubais and Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev
in a move widely seen as a setback for reform.

June 16 – Yeltsin wins the first round of a presidential
election from Communist Gennady Zyuganov. He builds on his lead by
making third-placed Alexander Lebed his security adviser.

June 19-20 – Yeltsin sacks four hawkish members of his team,
bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg
Soskovets, state security chief Mikhail Barsukov and Defense Minister
Pavel Grachev.

July 3 – Yeltsin wins a second term, 13 points ahead of
Zyuganov, despite cancelling campaign trips in the final stages.

Aug 31 – Lebed signs a peace deal ending the war in Chechnya.

Oct 17 – Yeltsin sacks Lebed, accusing him of harboring
presidential ambitions and splitting the Kremlin team.

March/April 1997 – Back at the Kremlin after heart surgery,
Yeltsin completes a government reshuffle. Reformers Anatoly Chubais and
Boris Nemtsov are named first deputy premiers.

May 22 – Furious over army corruption and a lack of military
reforms, Yeltsin sacks Defense Minister Igor Rodionov.

November – Yeltsin sacks Chubais, Privatization Minister Maxim
Boiko and Federal Bankruptcy Agency chief Pyotr Mostovoi. Berezovsky is
sacked as deputy secretary of security council.

March 23, 1998 – Back in the Kremlin after a respiratory
infection, Yeltsin sacks Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his
cabinet for failing to implement reforms. He names former Energy
Minister Sergei Kiriyenko as Chernomyrdin’s replacement.

Aug 17 – The government lets the rouble slide and defaults on
some domestic debt. Yeltsin says he will stand by Kiriyenko.

Aug 23 – Yeltsin sacks Kiriyenko and his entire government and
reappoints Chernomyrdin as acting prime minister.

Sept 10 – Yeltsin nominates Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov
as prime minister after parliament blocks Chernomyrdin.

Sept 11 – Parliament approves Primakov as prime minister.

December – Yeltsin returns to work after a bout of pneumonia
and sacks Valentin Yumashev as his Kremlin chief of staff, replacing him
with former border guard chief Nikolai Bordyuzha.

March 4, 1999 – Amid speculation of a possible cabinet
shakeup, Yeltsin announces he is withdrawing support for Boris
Berezovsky as Executive Secretary of the CIS.