Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Yeltsin Risks Taking Crisis To the Brink




A great deal of care will be required to prevent the political crisis that President Boris Yeltsin began so blithely three weeks ago from spinning out of control.


The replacement of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin with the 35-year-old Sergei Kiriyenko appeared to be an expression of Yeltsin's erratic willfulness rather than a fundamental change of direction.


But the stakes are now deadly serious. The State Duma will have one last opportunity to approve Kiriyenko as prime minister next Friday. Otherwise, Russia will be faced with fresh parliamentary elections and months of political uncertainty.


It is easy to understand the brinkmanship on both sides that resulted in the Duma's rejection of Kiriyenko in the previous two votes.


While Yeltsin's choice of Kiriyenko may have been a spur-of-the-moment decision, it has now become a matter of the president's personal authority to ensure that he is accepted. Yeltsin is not one to back down.


The Communist-dominated opposition, on the other hand, has used the first two votes to show Yeltsin that it should not be taken for granted and to convince its supporters that it has not sold out completely.


The most likely scenario remains that the opposition, having proved its mettle, will find a face-saving way to back down in the final vote. The deputies realize the risks in a dissolution. And under Russia's constitution, Yeltsin can appoint an acting government almost indefinitely without their approval.


The Duma also has few ideological reasons to oppose Kiriyenko's candidacy. By all appearances, the bland young man will lead a government almost indistinguishable from Chernomyrdin's.


But Yeltsin too should realize the importance of avoiding a dissolution. He may pretend to be carrying on business as usual, but the country has been in suspended animation for the last month, and elections would waste even more time and energy.


Moreover, Yeltsin has little to gain from a new poll in which the communists are likely to do at least as well as they did last time, while the biddable Liberal-Democratic party will probably be replaced by more intractable radical forces, like parties affiliated with Lev Rokhlin and Alexander Lebed.


The Kremlin must be prepared to make some concessions this week to make doubly sure that events do not follow this scenario. Yeltsin must realize that the Duma's voting procedures are fickle and in a close vote it is almost impossible to predict a result.


When Yeltsin's returns from Japan, he may have to promise some opposition parties some Cabinet posts or he may have to step up his largely symbolic consultations. He should not risk going right to the brink.