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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Return to the Soviet Womb

The only conclusion to be drawn from Boris Yeltsin's actions over the last 10 days is that he has decided to try to out-Zyuganov Zyuganov.

The removal of Andrei Kozyrev was symbolic but not surprising. Kozyrev had become so unpredictable and quirky that, for all they may say, many Western diplomats will probably be relieved to be dealing with the sober and consistent Yevgeny Primakov instead. Likewise with Sergei Filatov, who had long ceased to have much pull in the Kremlin. He remained a channel for certain liberal views to reach Yeltsin, but by this winter that channel had pretty much dried up.

The exit of Anatoly Chubais is qualitatively different. He was not only the last remaining member of the Gaidar team of 1991-92. He was also the protector for a lot of good economists in the government, like Yevgeny Yasin, Yakov Urinson and Sergei Vasilyev. With his departure they are friendless and the batteries have effectively been taken out of the government's economic power-pack.

Simultaneously with this wave of dismissals, the crisis in southern Russia has badly damaged Viktor Chernomyrdin. Even moderate newspapers have been sarcastic about how the peacemaker of Budyonnovsk spawned the bloodshed of Kizlyar. That is not really fair. After all, in Budyonnovsk there was an unsuccessful attempt to storm the hospital and, short of creating a sea of blood, the prime minister had very few options. But politics is all about perceptions and the popular perception now is that, by letting the fighters go, Chernomyrdin gave birth to Kizlyar, Pervomaiskoye and the attack on the ship in the Black Sea. So much for Chernomyrdin's discreet campaign to be Yeltsin's official heir this June.

The men who have come out on top are Nikolai Yegorov (former collective farm boss from Krasnodar), Oleg Soskovets (former director of the Karaganda metallurgical plant) and of course, Alexander Korzhakov (former KGB Ninth Directorate).

None of them would have looked out of place in the Soviet Central Committee circa 1984. All are associated with starting the Chechen war and they may now be encouraged to seize the moment of anti-Chechen feeling and re-ignite the conflict.

The dominant political idea in this group is nationalism, the dominant economic idea -- state intervention. Another ambitious Homo Sovieticus who can be added to this group is Vladimir Shumeiko (former director of the Krasnoyarsk Factory of Measuring Instruments). In Nezavisimaya Gazeta this Wednesday he set out his thesis for the "renewal" of the presidential team with a tired rehash of arguments about the "Russian Idea."

All of which leads me to believe that the plan of B.N. Yeltsin (former first secretary of the regional party committee in Sverdlovsk 1976-85) is to overpower G.A. Zyuganov (second secretary of the city party committee in Oryol 1974-83) in the second round of a presidential election by an old-fashioned appeal to Soviet values. The first swallow has already come with the order to the government to pay overdue pensions and wages.

I use the word "plan" but perhaps some psychoanalytical term like "return to the womb" or "infantile regression" would be better. The wave of sackings over the last fortnight is as much a generational change as anything. Kozyrev, 44 and Chubais, 40, have gone the way of Yegor Gaidar, Ella Pamfilova and Boris Fyodorov and the president has come home to the kind of people he has worked with for 30 years. Ideologically he has almost completed the circle he began when he left Sverdlovsk in 1985.

The only intelligent part of this plan is that Yeltsin has waited until January 1996 to declare it.

He last put himself up to the public vote in April 1993 and the referendum, which was as much a vote against Ruslan Khasbulatov and the Supreme Soviet as it was an endorsement of him. Since then he has tested public opinion with two trial balloons, Russia's Choice in December 1993 and Our Home Is Russia in December 1995. Both balloons did disappointingly at the polls, but the president had been careful not to associate himself with them too closely and did not take too much personal damage.

Now he has made his move. The ideology is different again from that of Russia's Choice or Our Home Is Russia, and the name should really be Yeltsin Is Our Only Choice. But will the public buy it? Faced with two sets of post-Communists, might they not prefer to vote for the ones who call themselves the real thing?