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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What They Might Have Said

When the State Duma finally voted on whether or not to throw out the government last week, the motion got 194 votes -- rather more than most of us had expected but still not enough to carry the day. With the passage of more than a week, however, nobody has yet given a convincing explanation of who voted which way and why.

Nor do I have the answer. Yeltsin tried to buy some votes in the Agrarian Party by giving them the Agriculture Ministry. That much we know, but the arithmetic suggests that this ruse had little effect. So what did happen?

The best I can do is to offer a conversation that might have been picked up by a dictaphone inadvertently left on a chair in the State Duma cafeteria last Wednesday, the day before the no-confidence vote. The two speakers are Timofei Nikiforovich, a deputy from the Agrarian Party from a big Black Earth region -- he sits on the left and is eating borshch -- and Ivan Vladislavovich, a deputy from a large Urals industrial city in the New Regional Policy faction -- on the right eating shchi.

TN: The borshch costs 1,317 rubles and they expect us to support the government! You remember, Vanya, what they used to charge in the Supreme Soviet ...

IV: Two rubles 55 kopeks, I think. The country really is going to the dogs. And this shchi is really nothing compared to what we had in '89 at the Congress of People's Deputies. Five years of so-called democratization and it gets more and more watery.

TN: So how's your faction going to vote then, Vanya?

IV: Well there are two main theories. The gas-lobby crowd says we should support the government. Some of them had a meeting with Kvasov and some went to see Soskovets. They say we give the government another year and there are a few contracts that might be tidied up. There's a ball-bearings plant back home that hasn't sold anything for two years and one of them said they could land a contract with Ecuador. Or was it Ethiopia? Then there's the trade tour of the Caribbean. There might be two extra places, they said.

TN: But you're not in with that crowd, are you?

IV: No ... Well the other crowd say things like "Skokov would be a lot better," and "We're supposed to be a parliament, aren't we?" Besides, two extra places isn't enough. I've never been to Jamaica.

TN: And what does the leader say?

IV: That we're the group that doesn't offend anyone. He says we should abstain. I say he can't make up his mind. Timofei, these kotlety are a disgrace. Yeltsin dissolved the Supreme Soviet and we ended up with this gristle! What are your lot saying?

TN: Well there's a deal in the air. Basically it goes something like this. The farming budget is down officially. But there's a subsection in one of the clauses for "extra-budgetary funds for transport in emergency situations." They can allocate to tractors and it'll be worth 4 trillion. Then Vitya Khlystun is out and we get Nazarchuk as Agriculture Minister. And there's a fact-finding trip to California which might be expanded to include a couple of farming experts.

IV: Then you vote for the government.

TN: Then we think about it.

IV: Have you submitted the list of ministers you want to resign?

TN: Well, there's Chubais ...

IV: The evil demon of privatization. The man who robbed 70 million people of what was rightfully theirs. He's on our list too. Anyone else?

TN: Well, no actually. We thought about Zaveryukha, but he is in our party after all. And the Communists are banging on about Grachev and Yerin, but to be honest they don't much care about them down in Tula. Shokhin maybe, we might put him on the list, but frankly I tried reading one of his speeches and I couldn't work out whose side he was on anyway. He might be one of us. But actually it would be terrible if Chubais went, wouldn't it?

IV: Are you nuts?

TN: Careful with that kompot. Well, we've been talking for the last two years about the "Gaidar regime," the "Gaidar course" and so on. It's been a bit more difficult since Gaidar went. But at least there's been Chubais to oppose. What will we do without him?

IV: I see what you mean. There's always Yeltsin. Almost a year and he hasn't set foot in the Duma yet. Do you think he knows about the price of the food?