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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Keeps Kremlin Guessing at Successor

Teasing his potential successors and rivals, President Boris Yeltsin announced Friday he has selected an heir to his Kremlin throne and threatened to shake up his liberal-dominated Cabinet.

Sticking to his well-tested strategy of keeping political rivals off balance, Yeltsin refused to specify the person he envisions as Russia's next president. Neither did he say which of his ministers might be close to getting booted from the Kremlin.

He also refused -- again -- to definitively rule out another run at the presidency himself.

Yeltsin did issue a strong vote of support in his trusted and increasingly powerful prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who the president said will continue to serve in the government at least through the end of the year. But Yeltsin added that "one or two" of Chernomyrdin's aides might have to be replaced soon.

The president made the remarks before retreating to a country residence to celebrate his 67th birthday Sunday. He left Kremlin underlings to ponder his intentions as they jostle anxiously for position in the run-up to the 2000 elections.

"I do not intend to violate the constitution. But I have made up my mind about a successor. I now face one problem -- when to announce it," Itar-Tass quoted Yeltsin as telling a gathering of Russian media executives.

The Kremlin has long argued Yeltsin would not violate the two-term limit in Russia's 1993 constitution if he ran again. He was first elected in 1991, when Russia was still a Soviet republic.

Yeltsin's spokesman quickly pointed out Friday the Constitutional Court must decide if Yeltsin can run again. So far, nobody has formally asked the court to make such a ruling.

"The Constitutional Court will probably issue its opinion on whether or not this president can post his candidacy in 2000. I don't know if its ruling will somehow influence the president's decision or not," the spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said on NTV television.

The Constitutional Court, part of it hand-picked by Yeltsin, has rarely ruled against the Kremlin.

Analysts say Yeltsin regularly drops reminders about his potential candidacy in order to keep rivals at bay. Most of the current front-runners are either senior Kremlin aides -- like Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minster Boris Nemtsov -- or close Yeltsin allies, like populist Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Chernomyrdin, attending the world economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, urged calm among Western investors who support the liberal policies of Nemtsov and fellow First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais.

"I can tell you that they are not going to quit the government," Chernomyrdin was quoted as saying about his two deputies, whose influence appears to have waned in recent weeks.

Chubais sounded confident that Yeltsin, despite promising a shake-up, does not plan to jettison the Kremlin reform wing.

"Yeltsin repeated the same in December about changing one or two government ministers. But this will not be a revolution. It is just adjustments," Reuters quoted him as saying in Davos.

Yastrzhembsky said he did not know what changes Yeltsin had in mind. He said the president might wait until after a meeting at which senior ministers are supposed to account for their performances over the past year.

That meeting already has been postponed several times.

Yeltsin held informal talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on Friday in Moscow and said he would back Kuchma in his re-election bid in October 1999.

Russia and Ukraine have sought to mend fences lately after a chill in relations that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin's backing for Kuchma could be significant in attracting votes from the large ethnic-Russian population in Ukraine.