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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition to Chernomyrdin Is Wavering

As the Communists sent conflicting signals about their goals, President Boris Yeltsin and opposition leaders resumed negotiations Thursday on a power-sharing agreement that could clear the way for the approval of Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister.

The Kremlin's opposition in the State Duma has called on Yeltsin to resign, or at least to offer a better candidate than Chernomyrdin, who already headed the government for almost six years earlier this decade -- during which the nation recorded negative economic growth and piled up billions in debt.

But Yeltsin has said both he and Chernomyrdin are staying, so the Duma is to take up Chernomyrdin's nomination again Friday afternoon, just four days after having rejected him 253-94.

Since that first vote Monday, however, the Communists have offered mixed messages about their plans, and on Thursday the Kremlin opened new negotiations with the left opposition.

Also Thursday, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky reversed himself and pledged the support of his 51 nationalist Duma deputies to Chernomyrdin.

"No matter how bad Chernomyrdin was, he is the most experienced, and even bad experience is still experience," said Zhirinovsky at a news conference, defending his voting about-face. "The surgeon who has dispatched 200 patients to the morgue may cure the 201st. He has learned, he knows."

The political maneuvering took place against the background of a statement critical of the political stalemate by Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who usually doesn't offer opinions on political issues.

"The armed forces are not in a festive mood," Sergeyev was quoted as saying by Interfax during military exercises in Astrakhan in southern Russia. "They are worrying about when the situation will stabilize and a government will be appointed which will take the economic helm."

Most analysts describe the armed forces as unwilling to be drawn into a repeat of the bloody 1993 confrontation between Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet, which ended when the parliament was shelled into submission by tanks.

There has certainly been some shrill 1993-style rhetoric of late, with Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed warning of an impending social explosion, and the front-page of the Kommersant Daily newspaper Wednesday was emblazoned with a sinister-looking 35-centimeter-tall photograph of Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov's face, under the headline "Zyuganov is ready for war." The text of the story warned the country was "under the threat of civil war."

But such statements, like Sergeyev's comments Thursday, so far seem to be overstated. Although Kommersant warned flatly that the coming civil war was to be launched by Zyuganov himself, his Communists were eagerly negotiating with the Kremlin on the eve of Friday's vote.

The Communist-dominated Duma and the president are engaged in a standoff that began when Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko on Aug. 23 and nominated Chernomyrdin, who served as premier from 1992 until Yeltsin replaced him with Kiriyenko in April.

If Chernomyrdin is rejected a third time, the Constitution requires that the Duma be dissolved and that new elections be held.

As the price for confirming Chernomyrdin, the opposition is pushing for Yeltsin to permit amendments to the constitution that would take away his sweeping powers to hire and fire Cabinet ministers and give them to the prime minister and the parliament.

Zyuganov, while insisting the party would once again vote against Chernomyrdin, left himself room to maneuver. Asked if he was ready for dissolution, he answered only that "we are ready to defend the constitution and rule of law, and to do everything necessary to preserve the legislative branch."

Members of the left opposition used a similar argument for in the end approving the nomination of Kiriyenko, saying that Yeltsin should not be left without the supervision of the Duma.

An earlier deal to approve Chernomyrdin in return for such power-swapping fell through when the Communists and Zhirinovsky's nationalists said the Kremlin wasn't serious.

But Thursday the powerful Kremlin chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, met with Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a leading Communist, and Seleznyov said the deal was again on.

"[Yumashev] said that the president proposes to continue work on the political document and in the course of one or two days will introduce his amendments," Seleznyov told reporters.

The Kremlin press service described the changes as "insignificant." But Seleznyov, who only the night before was saying on television that he was prepared to fight Yeltsin until he had dispersed the Duma and launched new parliamentary elections, on Thursday called reaching an agreement "very important."

Yet another factor in the resumption of Kremlin-Duma negotiations is support shown for Chernomyrdin by regional governors who sit in the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament.

Although they have no formal role in the confirmation process, the governors wield influence -- not least because they often can determine the outcome of Duma elections in their territories.

Many of the governors are members of the former Soviet nomenklatura, or party elite, as was Chernomyrdin. He has been courting them diligently in his confirmation campaign and met Wednesday with more governors, including Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroyev.

The Federation Council is to meet Friday to hear Chernomyrdin's proposals for extricating Russia from its economic mess. An expression of support from the upper house as whole would give Chernomyrdin a strong push toward confirmation.

Dissolution of the Duma holds risks for both sides. With the economy in ruins, angry voters might elect a Duma more hostile to Yeltsin. Yet the Communists could not be sure that elections would even be held with speculation rampant that Yeltsin would find in the economic crisis a pretext to cancel them.

"The Duma is very much scared that it will be dissolved if it votes against Chernomyrdin a third time, and there is a certain shift in the sentiment there," said Yevgeny Volk, director of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation research institute. "I think the Communists understand pretty well that if the Duma is dissolved there will be no elections in three months."