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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernomyrdin Seeks Way Back to Cabinet

Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has spent the week courting opposition groups in what analysts say is an attempt to use dissatisfaction over the collapse of the ruble as a springboard back into the government.

But it is doubtful that the opposition will support a return for Chernomyrdin, whom they still hold partly responsible for the country's economic crisis.

Chernomyrdin, who since his surprise dismissal by President Boris Yeltsin in March has been restrained in his criticism of the new Cabinet, launched an uncharacteristically scathing attack Thursday on his successor as prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko.

"We have no government today. The necessary measures are not being taken or even proposed. Nothing is being done," he said, adding, "I expect the president will be taking action soon."

Chernomyrdin broke off his vacation Monday and returned to Moscow where he threw himself into a round of consultations with opposition leaders, including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Krasnoyarsk region Governor Alexander Lebed, and Nikolai Ryzhkov, leader of the leftist Popular Rule faction in the State Duma. He also met with Yeltsin's chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev.

"We talked about the situation in Russia's economy and about what measures are necessary to get out of this complicated position," Chernomyrdin told reporters after meeting Ryzhkov and Zyuganov.

Commentators say that the former prime minister realizes that with dwindling support and little flair for public politics, his chances of being elected president in 2000 are slim. He is therefore seeking to get back his job as prime minister on the back of a possible reshuffle, or the creation of a coalition government that will include representatives of the parliamentary opposition.

"He has obviously increased his activity," said Sergei Kolmakov of the Fond Politika research center. "He well understands that this is one of the last chances for him to exploit the crisis situation to jump back into the government. If he does not use that opportunity, his political future, and the future of his party can be written off."

Chernomyrdin has friendly relations with nationalists and communists in the Duma, and is using this to curry support. "He has always enjoyed the opposition's trust," said Yury Korgunyuk, of the INDEM research center, which is headed by former Yeltsin adviser Georgy Satarov. "In terms of his psychological makeup, he is very close to them."

Sources close to the former prime minister said that at his talks with Zyuganov and Ryzhkov, the three agreed on a number of issues. Similar reports were issued after the meeting with Lebed.

Chernomyrdin hinted Thursday that he supported the formation of a coalition government with enhanced powers -- a key demand of the Communists and their allies. "It would not be a crime if Russia's political parties and movements were represented in [the government]," he said.

However, analysts cautioned that while Chernomyrdin is keen to head a new coalition government, opposition politicians are not convinced they want him. Many see him as politically tarnished after six years as head of the government.

"I think the meetings were on [Chernomyrdin's] initiative," Korgunyuk said. "The question is whether the opposition is interested in this. Right now they are just examining the possibilities."

Kolmakov said Chernomyrdin and the opposition were also at odds over tactics: The former prime minister wants the government replaced but is opposed to calls for Yeltsin's resignation. Meanwhile, the Communists insist Yeltsin step down but are privately content to see Kiriyenko's Cabinet stay on for the time being. "Their political motives do not coincide," Kolmakov said.

In any case, the opposition may be eyeing an alliance with a potentially stronger figure than Chernomyrdin -- Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Duma Deputy Andrei Nikolayev, who is often used by Luzhkov to test the political waters, said Friday in remarks reported by Interfax that the Moscow mayor might be ready to head a coalition government.