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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Coup Entails Danger And a Blunder

What occurred last week in Moscow could be justifiably called a coup. What makes this one different is that it was carried out by the Russian president himself.


If by coup one understands a change of power, then something of the kind occurred, since many people believed that Russia was run by the president's chief bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov and not Boris Yeltsin. At least, this is the impression that was given. It is no accident that one of the leaders of the security services took second place among the most influential politicians in Russia.


Yeltsin's decision to change his staff last week showed that he, and not the circle around him, is governing Russia.


True, there was one blunder and a series of dangers tied to the quick sacking of the defense minister, chief of the president's bodyguard, director of the Federal Security Service and the first deputy prime minister. The blunder has to do with Anatoly Chubais, who was the first person to tell the world Thursday about the personnel changes in the Kremlin. Even people who are sincerely sympathetic to the "commissar of privatization" wondered: In what capacity was Chubais speaking at the press conference? He is not the head of the president's administration and not even an aide. An official in the administration, which Chubais is not, should have been the one to make such a key announcement.


But one can understand why Chubais appeared as an official representative from the Kremlin at this critical moment. He had led an unequal struggle against the Korzhakov-Soskovets-Barsukov alliance and it was his people who had been arrested on Wednesday night. Things could have gone entirely the other way. He was in the heat of battle and was drunk with a sense of victory.


Someone with Chubais' political experience should not have made the mistake, however, of speaking as one of the main actors in the events and saying how the decree on their dismissal was adopted after his personal meeting with the president (whether or not this is true). Indeed, Chubais is not the most popular politician among Russian voters, and he understands this very well. By hinting that he now has the president's ear, instead of Korzhakov, he has alienated the part of Yeltsin's electorate that did not take very well to the first years of reforms and privatization. It can only be hoped that Alexander Lebed's appointment will somehow stabilize this blunder.


What about the dangers tied with the recent dismissals? There is an old Kremlin rule that goes: One should not quarrel with the army and the secret service at the same time. But Yeltsin disregarded this rule, and it is entirely possible that this union of aggrieved people will one day spring back. Or Yeltsin could appoint them to some other important posts, as he has done with the constantly shuffled Oleg Lobov.


The other danger is that Yeltsin will now want to let the other ax drop and dismiss some of the reformers in the government to please the conservative part of his electorate. Theoretically, this could have occurred at the government meeting that was to have taken place Tuesday and conducted by the president himself. The meeting, however, has been put off for the time being.





Mikhail Berger is economics editor of Izvestia.