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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PARTY LINES: If Stepashin Is Smart He'll Back Yabloko

On Wednesday, the coquettish Yevgeny Primakov finally dropped his flirtatious pose and made it official: He will head Fatherland-All Russia. By Thursday, with the Primakov question answered, political Moscow was whirling around to focus on Russia's other "wrongfully sacked" former prime minister: Sergei Stepashin.

Conventional wisdom has held that Stepashin will join a much talked about "center-right" bloc linking Sergei Kiriyenko's New Force, Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia, and Yegor Gaidar's Right Cause.

When those four met this week with newly confirmed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, everyone assumed that Stepashin was pretty much spoken for. The expectation was that Putin would start slapping heads in the regions to get some governors to play ball and support this new pro-Kremlin team.

But Chernomyrdin seems in no hurry to embrace the widely-loathed Gaidar; Kiriyenko is blaming "the system," which seems to include everyone but Kiriyenko; and then, out of nowhere, comes Stepashin's intriguing meeting with Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky.

Was Stepashin really considering hooking up with Yavlinsky? Or more interestingly - taking into account the former prime minister's closeness to President Boris Yeltsin and his role in the October 1993 shelling of the White House and the Chechen war - was Yavlinsky really considering hooking up with Stepashin?

Yavlinsky said Thursday that he and Stepashin had considered joining forces. But, he added, Stepashin concluded that he could not join Yabloko because, as an "officer," he felt obliged to stay loyal to his president - whatever that may entail.

One of the many rumors circulating about the reason for Stepashin's firing last week was that - in addition to not being "tough" enough to prevent Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov from winning Russia's regional leaders to his side - he was unwilling to carry out constitutionally questionable measures to protect Yeltsin and his "family." Stepashin fed this theory with a recent interview in Komsomolskaya Pravda, where he said he was fired because he "could not be bought."

So what will Stepashin do now? He says he will run for the State Duma from a St. Petersburg district - and Yavlinsky says Stepashin will do so with an endorsement from Yabloko.

We are still waiting to hear Stepashin's side of that story. But if he is linking up with Yabloko's Yavlinsky, that speaks highly for him. Yavlinsky is one of the few national politicians who are not tainted with the sleaze and cronyism of the Yeltsin years; and Yabloko is hands down the only real democratic opposition in Russia.

However, Stepashin still has time to screw things up for himself. He has always struck me as somebody who - in his heart of hearts - wants to do the right thing, but never seems to find the strength to do it, and often ends up doing the wrong thing.

He can talk all he likes about being "an officer." But there is more to an officer's honor than saluting at orders, no matter how flawed. Stepashin is no longer employed by the government; what would have been dishonorable about moving into opposition against a Kremlin that, by his own account, tried "to buy" him?

Jonas Bernstein is on vacation.