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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Volsky Works His Role in Latest Yeltsin Saga

It is an increasingly safe bet in the opaque world of Russian politics that where there is smoke, the fire will have been set by Arkady Volsky, the grey eminence of Russia's so-called centrist politicians.

Volsky's hand was in evidence again this weekend. Statements ascribed to him while he was visiting Japan appear to have been at the root of a diplomatic incident, forcing President Boris Yeltsin to cut short a ground-breaking visit to China and return to protect his authority at home.

Volsky, who heads Russia's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, has since denied making the comments, which were attributed to him in an interview with the Japanese news agency Kyodo and were then picked up by Russian television and the Russian daily Izvestia.

Whether by design or injustice, the interview -- coupled with whatever backstage maneuvers accompanied it back home -- seems to have sped the president back to Moscow.

According to Izvestia, Volsky said that Yeltsin should no longer be running economic policy in Russia, a statement that implied a dramatic shift in the direction of reforms under the country's new prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The paper also reported that Volsky had offered several names that were to be included in Chernomyrdin's new cabinet, and that he spoke of how "the new prime minister and I" would be sorting out a number of issues.

The article went on to say that Volsky had in general behaved in such a way in Tokyo that the Japanese media had used the words "Russian leader" in reference to him, although he holds no official position.

Volsky has categorically denied making those statements and has threatened to sue Izvestia.

At the time, at least, Yeltsin might have been forgiven for thinking that his rhetoric about a "creeping coup" delivered in a speech to the Congress of People's Deputies a week ago was taking on flesh.

For the Congress has already taken away some of Yeltsin's power over the Foreign, Defense, Security and Interior Ministries. If he was also to lose control over economic policy, his authority would be decimated.

Interfax reported Sunday that Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin had reached an agreement on the cabinet's composition.

Depending on the cabinet he chooses, Chernomyrdin is expected to signal whose man he intends to be.

If he were to keep the so-called "Gaidar team" who now make up the core of the cabinet, he would be seen to remain amenable to Yeltsin, who clearly thought he would be able to control the 54-year-old veteran of Soviet central planning when he proposed Chernomyrdin to replace his own favorite, Yegor Gaidar, at the Congress.

But Chernomyrdin was also the choice of centrists inside the Congress who are allied to Volsky's umbrella coalition, Civic Union. Were the prime minister to replace the Gaidar team with men from the industrialist's stable, he would appear subordinate to Volsky.

If Sunday's reports prove correct and the Gaidar team is to remain largely intact, Yeltsin would appear to have won the race to fill the cabinet posts. But the fact that he had to abort his visit to China demonstrates how much authority the president lost after his bruising two-week battle with the Congress.

Yeltsin won an agreement from the Congress to call a referendum on a new draft constitution before the deputies meet again next April, banking on the fact that the draft will make no provision for the body's existence and thereby force its dissolution.

But those plans are already in doubt. The secretary of the constitutional commission, Oleg Rumyantsev, said last week that the referendum date may have to be put back to June 12, after the next session of Congress.

That would expose Yeltsin, already weakened, to another bout with Russia's powerful dinosaur of a legislature.