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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sochi Shutout Bodes Ill for Chernomyrdin

One of the most important events last week was, strangely enough, the non-occurrence of a planned event. Boris Yeltsin did not receive Viktor Chernomyrdin in Sochi, though he did find time for other cabinet members. This and other circumstances suggest that serious friction exists between the president and the prime minister and that the latter may be on his way out.

In any case, many knowledgeable sources feel that dramatic political changes are in store.

A doctor I know told me a story about one of his patients, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Apparently, the Liberal Democratic party leader liked the doctor's work and asked what he could do for him in return. The doctor said: "Promise me that I can get out of Russia when you become president."

The story may be apocryphal but it reflects the sober mood of many.

A couple of months ago an anonymous source tipped off journalists to the effect that members of the president's entourage were in close touch with leaders of the Congress of Russian Communities Alexander Lebed and Yury Skokov, and pushing for the latter to take over as prime minister. The Duma had raised the question of no confidence in the government and, evidently, the president was considering making a concession, sacking Chernomyrdin and appointing Skokov.

At the time, many of my colleagues and I dismissed this as invention. But today it is obvious that certain people close to the president are indeed advising him to fire Chernomyrdin. Before leaving for Sochi, the president reportedly proposed to the prime minister that he take an extended vacation until the elections.

For Chernomyrdin such a strange vacation would be unacceptable. If he cannot stay on as prime minister, then most likely he will resign.

Some time ago, right after the raid on Budyonnovsk, for instance, a resignation in protest by Chernomyrdin could have paid off politically, especially if he had opposed the president directly.

But a resignation today, without any oppositionist aggression, would deprive Chernomyrdin of influence in his Our Home is Russia bloc while the bloc itself would lose the support of local administrators. If Chernomyrdin, whom many in the West have considered to be Yeltsin's most likely successor, does resign, his political career will be over.

If Yeltsin decides to fire the prime minister, then most likely he will appoint Yury Skokov to succeed him, just as the anonymous source suggested. The source did not say what sort of course Skokov might adopt as prime minister. Not much is known about Skokov, a veteran politician who shuns interviews and public statements. What little is known about his politics promises bad things for market reforms: Crude protectionism and broadening of the state sector, at minimum.

The advisers pushing Yeltsin to fire Chernomyrdin say that to distract the West he can leave First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin and economics aide Alexander Livshits where they are. But the West will hardly be deceived by such a Potemkin village, even if Chubais, Yasin and Livshitzs agree to play the part.

As of today, it is unclear which way the president is leaning. Perhaps this explains why he has been in no hurry to meet with the prime minister. But one way or another, this situation should resolve itself in the coming days.