Compromises Put Yeltsin's Future at Stake
The Russian president is losing the support of democrats who blame him for tactical mistakes ahead of recent Congress
THERE was no disguising the pain and disappointment on Russian President Boris Yeltsin's face when he rose Monday before the Congress of People's Deputies to announce the withdrawal of his favored candidate for prime minister, reform architect Yegor Gaidar.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Yeltsin understands better than anyone else that Mr. Gaidar is one of the few in this country who has a confident grasp of the fundamentals of a market economy. In that sense, the economist's departure is a palpable loss for both the president and the country because he is virtually impossible to replace.
But Yeltsin's anguish is not only for the departure of his trusted aide. It is also for himself. From the start of the two-week-long Congress until its dramatic close, the president has watched his most precious asset, his aura of invincible leadership, visibly erode.
In the aftermath of the Congress, the focus of attention has already shifted from Gaidar to Yeltsin. Now the question at hand is whether Yeltsin too will fall from power in the months ahead.
"The Congress ended in a significant defeat of the president and a weakening of that feeble structure that the democrats managed to create in the aftermath of the August putsch," an unnamed Cabinet member told the liberal daily Izvestia. "If this process is not arrested, the next Congress of People's Deputies [in April] will bury the presidential form of government and restore the authoritarian regime."
Less dramatically, such predictions are echoed in Russian political circles. Andrei Golovin, a leader of the centrist Civic Union movement, suggested during the Congress that Yeltsin may not be president in a year. "He may go even sooner," he said.
The radical democrats who were Yeltsin's most reliable supporters are angrily denouncing him for deceiving them by dumping Gaidar at the last moment. "The Democratic Russia movement is bound to become an opposition to the president now," radical deputy Gleb Yakunin said. Democrats break away
Some prominent Democratic Russia figures, such as Social-Democratic Party leader Oleg Rumyantsev, have broken from the movement. Mr. Rumyantsev called the liberal alliance's policies "destructive" and added he now seeks to align himself with Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who emerged as a clear rival to Yeltsin at the Congress.
A Russian businessman who saw Mr. Gaidar after his departure from power reports that the young economist-politician had already received "hundreds of calls" from businessmen and others offering money and other support to form a new political party and to back Gaidar as a candidate for president. He adds that Gaidar is preparing to launch a new think tank, a process he interestingly began two months ago, from which he will no doubt rain his trenchant critiques upon his successor, conservative energy indus try boss Viktor Chernomyrdin.
There is no indication that Gaidar feels any bitterness toward his former boss. Indeed he has consented to advise Yeltsin, though not in an official role, the businessman says. But many of Gaidar's backers are not so charitable.
"Yeltsin has traded Gaidar for himself, in order to preserve his own power," Vitaly Tretiakov, editor of the liberal Nezavisimaya Gazeta, wrote yesterday.
"The main result was that we managed to maintain our reform course, despite great pressure from the conservative wing, not to allow a split between the two branches of power," Yeltsin reportedly told visiting German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Tuesday. "Of course, both Congress and the president were obliged to make certain compromises, but in politics that is an ordinary occurrence," the official Itar-Tass news agency quoted him saying.