Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Yeltsin Could Yet Put Putin In the Kremlin

It has been a long time since so much disparaging abuse has rained down on the head of President Boris Yeltsin as it did following his Aug. 9 decision to exchange Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin for Vladimir Putin. And Yeltsin's loudest critics are the members of his once-prominent presidential council and the experts of his 1996 campaign headquarters f the same intellectual servants who justified the shelling of the Supreme Soviet in 1993 and the war in Chechnya, and who played a leading role in his 1996 re-election drive. Now, in the search for new cozy positions and generous budget flows to their think tanks, these newly minted fighters against the regime have moved into the camp of the new boss f the two-headed pretender to the Russian throne named Luzhkov-Primakov.

It has been said often, and justly, that Yeltsin has the strongest power instinct of any 20th century Russian politician save Stalin. Today, thanks to testimony from former Kremlin security chief Alexander Korzhakov and former Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov we know for certain that in 1996 Yeltsin seriously discussed a scenario to cancel the presidential elections and bring in a state of emergency. It is indisputable that similar plans, with modifications (such as a unification with Belarus and the creation of a Russian-Belarussian Union presidency), have been put forward by Yeltsin's circle this time around too.

In 1996, the president in the end decided to hold elections. It seems to me that he has also made his final decision on that matter this time around. In a recent address to the nation, Yeltsin concluded with the statement: "Within a year, the first democratically elected president of Russia will hand over power to the second democratically elected president of Russia."

All of Yeltsin's political opponents repeated that phrase like an incantation f they feared, and not without cause, that the president might take other extraconstitutional steps. But on Aug. 9 (the third anniversary of his inauguration), Yeltsin signed a decree on holding State Duma elections on Dec. 19 f and, for the first time, named the man he wants to see win Russia's third presidential election. He had come to the conclusion, finally, that the only thing he could do to save his presidency and go into the history books with a plus sign was to see through the most critical stage in the establishment of a democracy f a civilized transfer of power. The more personal and primitive task of protecting himself and his family is also best carried out by following that path, instead of through some political adventure.

If this is so, then the appointment as prime minister of a person whom he truly wants to see as his next president is a completely natural and necessary move. First, that's the best platform for a run at the presidency. Second, in this struggle Yeltsin has acquired an additional degree of freedom. He can, in complete agreement with the Constitution, pick a voting day that is most comfortable for Putin and least comfortable for his opponents. For example, Dec. 19 would be a very difficult day for Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Watch Sunday, Sept. 19. On that day, the president could suddenly start to feel a dramatic decline in his health, and decide to resign f which would automatically make Putin acting president for three months. We, as usual, will learn of this the following Monday morning.