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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Post Is Soskovets' 'Crucifixion' Say Analysts

The appointment last week by President Boris Yeltsin of First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets as his special envoy to Chechnya has given rise to speculation that the hawkish minister's main task there may be to spell out his own political obituary.


Analysts said the new posting, announced last Thursday, was well below Soskovets' rank, while Nikolai Semyonov, the official appointed to run the Russian territorial administration in Chechnya in January, was not relieved of his duties.


Soskovets, to all intents and purposes the second most powerful man in the cabinet after Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, appeared extraneous to the Russian government's effort in Chechnya.


On the "Itogi" current affairs television program Sunday, political commentator Yevgeny Kiselyov speculated that Soskovets got the assignment as a prelude to retirement.


"There are no political laurels to be reaped in Chechnya these days, but it can easily become a good crucifixion site for even the strongest politician," Kiselyov said. "There is good reason to wonder whether Soskovets' assignment to Chechnya might mean that his political career is nearing an end."


When discussing Soskovets' appointment, analysts recalled a similar recent practice: When a Communist Party secretary was earmarked for early retirement, he was given the agriculture portfolio so that later he could be blamed for crop failure and low milk yields.


"But everything depended on that year's harvest," said Viktor Borisyuk, a senior analyst with Yeltsin's Information and Analysis Center. "If the harvest was good for whatever reason, the agriculture secretary could be on his way up.


"If Soskovets achieves some kind of breakthrough in Chechnya, he could return, if not on a white horse, then at least as a stronger leader," Borisyuk added.


The deputy prime minister, reputed to be a leader of the "party of war" that lobbied for the Russian invasion of the region, had run the operation for the government at its outset in December.


Nationalities Minister Nikolai Yegorov was then put in charge, but he has been in the hospital for the past few weeks recovering from pneumonia.


After Yeltsin stressed the importance of a political solution to the Chechen crisis in his state-of-the-nation address last week, the appointment of Soskovets to the rebel region seemed illogical.


"It could have meant that Yeltsin wanted to raise the level of the peace talks, but Soskovets had no specific brief to participate in the talks," said Otto Latsis, a member of the advisory Presidential Council.


"In any case, Soskovets' appointment is no victory for the hawks," Latsis said. "On the whole, the 'party of war,' including Soskovets, undoubtedly has been defeated."


Latsis pointed out that, after lower-ranking Yegorov had represented Yeltsin in Chechnya, the job was a comedown for powerful Soskovets.


Latsis added that during Chernomyrdin's recent absence from Moscow, Soskovets was for the first time not asked to stand in for him. "That was clearly a political move," Latsis said.


However, some Kremlin watchers Monday were not predicting Soskovets' downfall. "He is a man of too big a caliber to be sunk like that," said one government analyst.