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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Yeltsin's Leap Into Unknown Defeat for All




When President Boris Yeltsin decided to dismiss the government of Viktor Chernomyrdin a month ago, he took a leap into the political unknown. The landscape after the battle leaves a sad impression. There are no victors. All that is left are the defeated -- a weakened president, humiliated State Duma, perplexed oligarchs and a government with no political base.


The president lost one of the main instruments of his tsarist style of ruling the country: the possibility of distancing himself from the government. Yeltsin very much liked, after returning from a few months of absence at his country house in Zavidovo, to expose some kind of disorder in the government and, punishing the guilty parties, once again demonstrate who is master at home. Now he himself will inevitably be perceived as the real head of the government, with all the responsibility for running day-to-day policy.


The Duma prolonged its physical existence until December 1999, but by voting for a candidate who was thrust on it by a mixture of threats and cynical bribery it destroyed itself morally as a state institution. This was worse than the shooting on the parliament in 1993, which had something of a Greek tragedy about it. This time it was a disgusting farce.


The Communist Party and its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, suffered the biggest political loss. It is obvious that Kiriyenko could not have been elected without the support of several dozen Communist deputies. After all the announcements about "irreconcilable opposition to the occupationist regime," it was a huge loss of face, undermining party credibility before its traditional electorate.


The so-called party of power had never been so discredited in the eyes of the public. The various clans of the Russian oligarchy that are battling it out with one another have convinced the man on the street of only one thing: They are all thieves. The opposition would have returned to parliament with an increased majority. But communist backbenchers preferred the certainty of two more years of their personal privileges and perks to any political considerations.


Some observers see Kiriyenko's appointment as a sign of weakening influence in the corridors of power of the notorious tycoon Boris Berezovsky. It is true that Yeltsin initiated this crisis, trying to shake off the strangling embraces of Berezovsky, who became overly present in his entourage. But even if Yeltsin sincerely wants to "throw him out of the country," it will be very difficult for him do to so. Berezovsky is too closely associated with the family business as its financial manager. The problem with Berezovsky is not that he has some kompromat, or sleaze, on Yeltsin. The problem is that Berezovsky, his business and financial and political history are in themselves the most damaging kompromat on Yeltsin and his family.


As for Kiriyenko, he will be completely dependent on Yeltsin and his entourage just at the moment when the government should take bold and painful decisions affecting the interests of powerful clans. The fall in world oil prices put an end to the first model of Russian capitalism, based almost exclusively on the export of natural resources. Success in business in Russia was determined by access to pipelines. Access to the pipelines was in turn provided only by access to power. Now we are entering the post-Yeltsin era in Russian politics, and the post-oil era in the Russian economy.