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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Vacuum That Nature Can't Abide

As a result of last year's constitutional referendum, Russia today has a strong presidential regime. Yet we find ourselves in the paradoxical situation where, having fought for and won the right to possess strong executive powers, President Boris Yeltsin is not using them.


On the contrary, there is a growing feeling of a power vacuum at the top -- a feeling that the political nervousness of the last few days has done little to abet.


Yeltsin's aides deny that his health is preventing him from fully occupying his office. And yet the increasingly strident protestations issuing from the Kremlin paradoxically add to the feeling of powerlessness.


Yeltsin's chief spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, may well thunder against "strivings to torpedo the president's efforts to strengthen social peace and concord." But in so doing, he raises the question: what efforts?


Rather than the strengthened chief executive we expected, Yeltsin in 1994 has become the absent president. So when his spokesmen rail about attempts to infect the population with "ideas about the illness of Boris Yeltsin," when his press service puts out statement after statement insisting that all is well, it inevitably creates the impression that this is not the whole picture.


Kostikov accuses the opposition of seeking to destabilize the country "and return to the tasks that the participants in the October uprising were unable to complete on their first try." He says they are trying to force on Russia early presidential elections.


This could well be the case, but if so it is hardly surprising. Nature abhors a vacuum -- so if there is a power vacuum at the top, forces will contend to fill the space.


Ironically, and perhaps not by chance, what the new Russian Constitution says about succession in the event a president becomes incapacitated by poor health is the same as the scenario outlined in the recent controversial document purporting to describe a coup plot by Yeltsin aides.


Leaving aside the more preposterous elements of the alleged plot, it would result in Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin serving as acting president for three months pending early presidential elections. And indeed, under Article 92 of the constitution, if Yeltsin were too ill to govern, Chernomyr-din would become acting president pending elections to be held within three months.


To halt the speculation that has engulfed Moscow since Yeltsin left town is not impossible. If the president were to return swiftly, resume his Kremlin activities, go out in public and convey the impression of strength, the rumors would die down.


By staying away, he is allowing his opponents to get on with what they all too obviously are doing: gathering their forces in anticipation of an early presidential poll.