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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Power Fight Is Result of Yeltsin's Style

The Kremlin power struggle that has erupted over the past few days has exposed dramatically the weaknesses of the Yeltsin system of government.


When the new constitution became law, in 1993, President Boris Yeltsin was reacting to an initially cowed legislature that was demanding supreme power. His answer was a document that emasculated the legislature and made the president a virtual autocrat.


But the chief executive is now ill and unable to exercise the great power at his disposal. The resulting vacuum has spawned a web of intrigue and infighting that had begun to spiral wildly out of control.


Yeltsin is largely to blame for this desperate state of affairs. From his earliest days at the top, he has pursued his own version of the "checks and balances" system of government, creating rival groups with overlapping responsibilities, with the president as arbiter.


Even now, when he is clearly too ill to govern, Yeltsin has been reluctant to part with the power he fought so long and hard to win. Instead of giving Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin the weapons he needs to impose some order in the Kremlin, the president has handed over just limited authority.


Chernomyrdin, himself a player in the power struggle, has thus been unable to rise above it.


When Alexander Lebed was brought on board between the two rounds of the presidential elections, he brought with him the 11 million voters who cast their ballots for him in June. But his rising popularity was a problem for Yeltsin, who is notoriously jealous of the limelight.


Anatoly Chubais, the ambitious reformer who played an important role in the Yeltsin campaign, became chief of staff in July, providing, analysts said at the time, an important counterweight to Lebed. But with Yeltsin out of play, there was no referee to ensure the infighting did not spin out of control.


With no constitutional curbs on power, the risk in Russia always is that power struggles will be resolved by force, as in October 1993. The minor scuffle between Lebed's bodyguards and the police Thursday was just a small indication of what could happen.


Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov's allegation that Lebed was plotting an armed coup was clearly concocted. But Lebed has been trying to amass his own loyal forces within the army, just as he has been bidding for the affections of Defense Minister Igor Rodionov.


By this week, however, it was clear Lebed had lost Rodionov, his own choice for defense minister. And on Thursday, Lebed lost the battle altogether when he was fired. But as the country's most popular politician, and now a political martyr to boot, he has by no means lost the war.