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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Sidesteps on Chernomyrdin Bid




President Boris Yeltsin said Monday he will not seek a third term in office, but declined to endorse sacked Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin -- who announced his own presidential bid over the weekend -- as his anointed successor.


"We don't have a tradition of successors. It is kings who have successors. We don't have them," Yeltsin said in his trademark enigmatic style before meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "Here the people elect," Yeltsin added.


The president was careful, however, not to alienate Chernomyrdin, whom he abruptly fired with most of the Cabinet last week, and replaced him with former Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kiriyenko.


Yeltsin said Chernomyrdin's weekend announcement, interpreted by some commentators as having caught the Kremlin off guard, "does not fall outside the general course of our policy."


He added: "I was the one who made the decision on sacking the Cabinet, meaning at the same time, that he [Chernomyrdin] would head the presidential campaign for the 2000 elections. ... We need a strong leader, and taking into account that I'm falling out [of contention for the presidency], we need to reinforce the team."


Chernomyrdin made the surprise announcement that he was putting himself forward for the 2000 presidential race in an interview on ORT television Saturday evening.


"I decided to run for president," Chernomyrdin said simply in answer to an interviewer's question.


Chernomyrdin becomes the first representative of Russia's so-called Party of Power to stake an official claim to Yeltsin's seat.


He now joins Russia's former security chief Alexander Lebed, leader of the liberal Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky and nationalist deputy speaker of the State Duma Sergei Baburin, as a declared candidate.


"Some start sooner some later," Yeltsin said of the presidential bids Monday. "This doesn't violate the Constitution."


In spite of his advancing age and persistent health problems, the 67-year old Yeltsin had until Monday refused to completely rule out running for a third term. Russia's Constitution Court is expected to rule by the end of this year on whether the constitution allows Yeltsin to seek a third term.


Yeltsin faced new problems Monday when leading figures in the State Duma, parliament's lower house, which is set to hold confirmation hearings for Kiriyenko Friday, said the 35-year old technocrat had insufficient experience for the job. Kiriyenko is planning to meet heads of all the Duma's major factions to try win their support ahead of the Friday vote.


Yeltsin has the right to disband the Duma if the chamber rejects his candidate three times. "A new, young man has joined the fray," the president said of Kiriyenko. "I think the State Duma will approve him," he added in what looked like a thinly-veiled warning to legislators.


So far only the centrist Russia's Regions and pro-government Our Home is Russia factions have pledged support for the young reformer. Neither faction can muster a simple majority. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose Liberal Democratic Party controls 51 seats, said Monday he was undecided, but usually supports the Kremlin when it comes to a vote.


Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov has already said his faction will turn down Yeltsin's choice of prime minister.


The Communists and their allies, who control a simple majority in the 450-seat lower house, drafted a joint appeal Monday calling on Yeltsin to hold talks on the formation of a new government instead of pushing for Kirienko's confirmation.


Zyuganov told NTV television's Itogi program Sunday that with only four months under his belt as energy minister, Kiriyenko has insufficient experience to command the entire government.


Yavlinsky told the same Itogi program that his Yabloko faction "so far has no reasons" to endorse Kiriyenko as a full-fledged prime minister.


Both Yavlinsky and Zyuganov said their parties would be ready for early parliamentary elections should Yeltsin decide to dissolve the Duma.


Nevertheless, most analysts predict that after some initial horse-trading, the Duma will confirm Kirienko on the second or third attempt. Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said Sunday that his colleagues may initially reject Kiriyenko, but will probably approve him eventually.


Meanwhile, the acting prime minister, initially described by some as a lame duck, has already started to show that he has some muscles to flex.


Kiriyenko told the Sunday Itogi program that former First Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais will not be nominated to the post of chairman of the board of directors at the national power monopoly Unified Energy Systems, as had earlier been planned.


"Since Anatoly Borisovich has left government service he cannot be a chairman by definition," he said. "This is categorically so," the acting premier stressed.


In an early indication of the policy direction that a Kirienko-led government might take, it was revealed that market reform gurus Yegor Gaidar and Yevgeny Yasin are helping draft his program, Interfax reported.