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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Power Struggle

President Boris Yeltsin's rout of the Russian parliament created a rather unexpected problem for journalists and observers. Until recently it was possible to obtain basic information about what was happening in the upper echelons of the government by analyzing the endless polemics among the president's team, the parliament and the Supreme Soviet. But now all is quiet on Russia's political Mount Olympus. The confused press conferences organized by officials from the government and the president's team have done little to relieve this silence.


The classic Soviet system of political life has been restored in Russia, what Winston Churchill once called "a bulldog fight under a rug". In Churchill's time, of course, one of the few opportunities for drawing conclusions about the results of the hidden political struggle was the order in which Soviet leaders stood on the mausoleum during revolutionary holidays.


Now we must use another means, such as tracking the progress along the career ladder of important officials.


Recently such shifts have given much food for thought, for example, the unexpected appointment of former factory director Vladimir Shumeiko as acting press and information minister instead of the return of Mikhail Poltoranin, who is a specialist in the area of mass media. Or the rather confused signals from Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai about the possibility of his resigning.


One cannot count on straight answers from the main actors in this drama. All one can do is speculate. As soon as the first tank fired on the parliament a fierce power struggle began inside the executive branch, which up until then had been united by the sensation of common danger.


There seems to be a conviction among the Russian political elite that Boris Yeltsin, in crushing the October rebellion, has exhausted his political potential. Indirect confirmation of this can be found in the semi-official information being disseminated by the Kremlin that the president does not intend to run in the next elections.


The president has played out his historical role, smashing two seemingly unshakable monoliths: the Communist Party and the Supreme Soviet. But after such a powerful breakthrough he will have to search for support just to cement his achievements, let alone to broaden his success. Whoever provides this support will be able to control the situation in Russia until the next elections.


Conflicts will arise first of all between the government and the president's administration - between Sergei Filatov and Viktor Chernomyrdin, primarily over the question of which of them will in reality control the regional executive power.


After at least a temporary neutralization of the system of Soviets, power in the country will be realized through the so-called "executive vertical" - through the governors. The governors are still formally subordinate to the president's administration. But Chernomyrdin, as head of the government, is hardly likely to approve of a state of affairs where he is all but deprived of the ability to control the system of regional executive power. So a struggle for influence over the governors is inevitable.


In this fight the greater chance for victory seems to lie with Viktor Chernomyrdin. He is the president's official successor, he has a good reputation among a wide spectrum of political forces, he has the support of the director's lobby. And, what is most important, Chernomyrdin is preferable for the heads of Russia's republics. He is the prime minister, upon whom so much depends - including credits and subsidies - and he is a person of moderate views.


A compromise between the center and the republics is inevitable. The president has little chance of simply dismantling the Soviets. He will have to come to an agreement with them in order to hold successful elections.


For his part Sergei Filatov is close to the president, and has influence over him. He also can count on the support of the radical democratic movements, although this support could turn out to be not as effective as before. More important is the fact that Filatov has the media under his control.


There is internal conflict in both camps. In the president's immediate circle, it seems, there is already a bloc of politicians headed by Gennady Burbulis and Mikhail Poltoranin, who oppose Sergei Filatov. By all accounts this anti-Filatov bloc supports Sergei Shakhrai. In the government the conflicts between the Chernomyrdin-Soskovets-Zaveryukha team and the so-called "reformers" - Yegor Gaidar, Boris Fyodorov, Anatoly Chubais are continuing with renewed force.


The formation of unions among all of these groups is possible, as well as dissolution, defection of one or another of the players. This makes the outcome of the political game unpredictable at this point. But the original position of the figures gives some clue as to the meaning behind the moves.


Take, for example, the appointment of Vladimir Shumeiko as press and information minister. His relations with Chernomyrdin have been difficult ever since Shumeiko was named official successor to Yeltsin, for which the parliamentary opposition tried to destroy him, and Rutskoi accused him of corruption. These relations have not improved since Shumeiko's rehabilitation.


Sergei Filatov convinced Yeltsin to appoint Shumeiko press and information minister. Shumeiko is a Filatov supporter, and, consequently, the head of the president's administration would receive control over an important political lever. But this certainly did not suit Mikhail Poltoranin, who, it appears, was counting on the minister's seat.


None of these maneuvers will have any effect on Russia's social and political condition. They will also not lead to any big changes in its internal and external policies. There is no sense in talking about the further fate of reforms until after the elections.


Sergei Chugayev is a political observer for Izvestia. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.