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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: New Premier Brings Russia Uncertainty




It is worth pausing to reflect on the bizarre series of events that led to the replacement of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin by the 35-year-old unknown Sergei Kiriyenko.


It now seems likely that Yeltsin ditched Chernomyrdin because he had turned into a threat to the president. Yeltsin was concerned at Chernomyrdin's increasingly presidential style and the assumption among Moscow's political and financial elite that Chernomyrdin would be Yeltsin's successor.


With Chernomyrdin dumped, the choice of Kiriyenko was probably the result of a spur of the moment decision and some lobbying on the part of whoever grabbed Yeltsin's ear Monday morning. The main attraction for Yeltsin in choosing Kiriyenko was that the young provincial financier did not constitute any sort of threat to his paramount position.


It seems unlikely that Kiriyenko was placed on the throne by any coalition of interests. Yeltsin's whole point in choosing Kiriyenko was to find a man who had no power base that might one day allow him to challenge his boss.


In this respect, Kiriyenko's selection as prime minister may be a step toward good government, marking a break with the byzantine, oligarchical in-fighting of the Chernomyrdin government.


Unlike his predecessor, Kiriyenko has no obvious debts to any lobby groups. The financial oligarchies, the regions and the communists in the State Duma are probably not delighted with him, but he is such an unknown that they have nothing with which to reproach him.


On a superficial view, Russia can now go forward with a young technocrat, albeit a politically weak one, in office. The markets apparently took this view and reacted with indifference to the week's political crises.


But it should be pointed out that the current situation also brings with it frightening instability. With Yeltsin sick, Kiriyenko will now be one heartbeat away from the presidency, and the control over Russia's nuclear arsenal that goes with it.


But if early presidential elections do have to be called, Kiriyenko will scarcely be a plausible candidate. The "party of power" will approach any new elections in disarray.


With a nobody in charge, Yeltsin now has plenty of time and plenty of room to maneuver in deciding who to anoint as his successor. Indeed, Yeltsin may well decide to run again or he may follow the regal principle of "Apr?s moi, le d?luge."


This uncertainty could lead to a better outcome than the previous scenario of Chernomyrdin being given the inside track as successor. But the result could also be a lot worse.