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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ax Premier? More to Lose Than Gain

There was never really much question that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin would give his full support to Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign. But for liberals clinging to the hope that they would be able to vote for the premier in June, the public pledges Chernomyrdin made Thursday were a wake-up call.

Barring any recurrence of Yeltsin's health problems, it now seems clear Chernomyrdin will not appear on the official list of candidates registered at the Central Election Commission by April 15. All his efforts, and those of Our Home Is Russia, will be dedicated to keeping Yeltsin in office for another term.

It is hard to see what Chernomyrdin got out of the deal. His steadfast loyalty appears unlikely to be rewarded. He has already been saddled with the unenviable task of pulling a solution to the Chechen crisis out of the seven unspecified plans for the region that Yeltsin says he has drawn up.

If he does the impossible and comes up with a scheme that actually works, Yeltsin will take the credit. If not, Chernomyrdin will equally certainly assume the role of scapegoat, and as such can take the blame for any other woes that can be laid at the door of the government -- industrial unrest and unpaid wages to name but two.

Unpalatable as this may be to Chernomyrdin, he had little choice. To break with Yeltsin would almost inevitably consign him to political oblivion. His sole political base is the party he set up last year, Our Home Is Russia. But Our Home is not unified around Chernomyrdin or any political ideology. It is the party of the incumbent, and if the prime minister were to break with Yeltsin, he would breaking with the incumbents.

This is not only rough justice for Chernomyrdin; it is a waste of talent. If the past three years have seemed less than a dramatic success, they could have been far worse. Chernomyrdin has proved an able steward for the economy and a vital fulcrum for political compromise. He has managed a cabinet that was impossibly diverse in political outlook, and has earned respect abroad for his handling of both the economy and sensitive political issues.

Yeltsin, of course, is now concerned about only one thing -- re-election. And Chernomyrdin's achievements, such as ruble stabilization and getting inflation under control, have proved to be less than persuasive to the unpaid and angry electorate that the president is trying to woo. But there is more to success than populist gestures. While Yeltsin may well feel the time has come to discard his prime minister, if he does so the administration will have lost one of its last remaining pillars of credibility.