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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PARTY LINES: New Job in Cards for Yeltsin

Last week, according to just about everybody, Vladimir Putin was about to be fired. Then, literally over one weekend, he was suddenly endorsed by politicians across the spectrum and re-embraced by President Boris Yeltsin. What happened?

The conventional wisdom is that Putin has simply become too popular to snub. But is there something else driving the elite to close ranks behind him?

On Wednesday, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, one of the newspapers in Boris Berezovsky's media empire, ran the latest commentary by Vitaly Tretyakov, its editor in chief. The main theme of the front-page article was that Yeltsin's actions over the last 18 months have been aimed not "at prolonging his authority, but at [his] departure from power or life (which for him is one and the same)." To this end, Tretyakov wrote, Yeltsin has set to work on three tasks aimed at correcting "failures" of his rule. The first is to "make up for" the disintegration of the Soviet Union; the second, to prevent the disintegration of Russia; the third, to prevent the Communists from returning to power. To succeed in these tasks, Yeltsin's has set himself the additional one of bringing to power a successor who can finish this work, and to "provide this person with the maximum reserve of time to do so."

If you sense at this point that a caveat to Yeltsin's departure plans is waiting in the wings, you are not mistaken. Almost at the end of his essay, Tretyakov adds that one of the sub-tasks Yeltsin has set for himself is a reunion with Belarus.

"I can roughly guess how Putin will solve the problem of reuniting with Belarus," Tretyakov wrote. "With Yeltsin's help and under his guidance, of course, because the laurels as the unifier must go to the current president. That Putin has a plan in this regard, I know precisely. One time, in a small group of people, he made a retort which, in essence, revealed this plan. A good plan. Yeltsin does not see his role as heading the Union with Belarus for another 100 years and thereby remaining in the Kremlin endlessly long. Along with creating the Union as such, Yeltsin sees his role only as keeping pressure on [Belarus President Alexander] Lukashenko until Putin is finally up on his feet and Lukashenko's popularity ceases to represent a political threat to the presidential successor both in the Union and within Russia. Yeltsin sees this, and only this, as his role."

Is Tretyakov simply making this up? I can't see a single useful propaganda purpose for this information - unless, of course, it is true. And if Tretyakov is giving us genuine inside information, then it would appear that the "Belarus option" is alive and well.

This week the Kremlin quietly announced that Yeltsin and Lukashenko will sign a Russia-Belarus union treaty Nov. 26. Earlier this year, various observers - including Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and former Yeltsin press secretary (and long-time critic) Pavel Voshchanov - predicted that Yeltsin might skirt the constitutional niceties about surrendering power by assuming the leadership of such a Russia-Belarus Union. It is reassuring to learn from Tretyakov that Yeltsin does not want to head such a union for "another 100 years" or remain in the Kremlin "endlessly long." But is that another way of saying Yeltsin may have to stay on for, say, two more years?

Which gets back to the sudden emergence of harmony within Russia's fractured political elite, with Putin as the rallying point. Pro-Kremlin politicos like Sergei Kiriyenko and Viktor Chernomyrdin rushed to praise Putin, as did Yury Luzhkov and Yevgeny Primakov, the leaders of the competing "party of power." Meanwhile, the Communists' perpetual anti-Kremlin drone went silent.

Support for the Chechen campaign, of course, is part of this. But perhaps there is something else: Maybe Putin let it drop that everyone who plays ball will get a seat on the Russia-Belarus Supreme State Council.

Given Russia's anti-Western drift, it is difficult to argue with Zhirinovsky, who predicted last February that Russian and Belarussian citizens alike would approve both a union and "the right for Yeltsin to rule for another four years."

Zhirinovsky - who, like Nezavisimaya Gazeta, can be seen as a launching pad for Kremlin trial balloons - predicted that would happen in a referendum to be held in January 2000. A new millennium, a new state - and for Yeltsin, a new job.