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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Watchers Predict Chubais' Fall

One day after President Boris Yeltsin signaled his confidence in First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, observers remain skeptical that the battered aide will survive in the Kremlin much past the New Year's holiday.

Most agree the iron-willed Chubais will prove useful to Yeltsin in his fight to keep the 1998 draft budget from becoming too bloated during next month's tough debate with leftist State Duma deputies.

But few Moscow observers give Chubais much of a chance to last beyond Jan. 1, Yeltsin's deadline for the government to pay back wages to all state workers, a nearly hopeless task according to both Cabinet ministers and analysts.

"We are facing a very difficult task," Chubais told Russian television late Tuesday night.

Chubais' detractors rush to point out that Yeltsin's support -- on Tuesday he promised he would "not give up Chubais" -- may mean little in the long run.

Kommersant Daily ran a front-page list Wednesday of top officials who first won Yeltsin's public trust, but were fired soon afterward. These included liberal economist Yegor Gaidar, ministers of defense Pavel Grachev and Igor Rodionov, and -- more recently -- Chubais' Kremlin archenemy Boris Berezovsky.

"Not long ago, Yeltsin named Pavel Grachev the greatest defense minister of all time and for all people ... and said he will never give him up. But he did, although not the next day," said Wednesday's edition of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, controlled by Berezovsky.

Although Chubais' enemies may be guilty of wishful thinking, independent analysts agree that, with tax collection just hovering above 50 percent and important state sell-offs delayed until next year, Chubais' days are probably numbered.

"Well, at least before January, Chubais' removal is unlikely," said Alexei Zudin, a researcher at the Center for Political Technologies.

"I am not at all optimistic about his future," agreed Yevgeny Volk, Moscow office director of the Heritage Foundation.

Chubais last March was appointed first deputy prime minister in charge of the economy. He was assigned to clear up the massive backlog of wages that began piling up immediately after Yeltsin was re-elected to a second term in July 1996.

Rarely willing to entertain Communist demands, Yeltsin refused to fire Chubais over a recent scandal involving a $90,000 book fee that critics argue was a veiled bribe. But should Chubais fail at the bigger task of getting state workers paid by New Year's Day, analysts say Yeltsin will likely listen to public discontent and fire Chubais.

"Yeltsin is a tactician," Volk said. "He needs Chubais in the short term to fight for the budge. But Yeltsin is not ruled by emotions. He is no closer to these young reformers than he is to [Prime Minister Viktor] Chernomyrdin."

Others suggest that Chubais' recent loss in stature may be the key to his long-term survival.

"In his present shape, Chubais is much more convenient to the president than the way he was before the crisis," Zudin said.

"Since the start of the year, when Yeltsin was sick, Chubais managed to transform himself from a technocrat who was also a symbol of reform into a powerful politician. That would be cause for concern even to Yeltsin," Zudin said. "Now, Chubais is Yeltsin's tool again."