President Boris Yeltsin appears to be in the hot seat after another suspected terrorist bomb went off in Russia yesterday.
Five blasts have rocked the country in the past month, killing nearly 300 people. Some leaders have blamed Chechen rebels for the attacks, although they have denied responsibility.
With fear mushrooming that more violence could come, people are holding Mr. Yeltsin personally accountable for the security problems. And leading Russian politicians are calling on him to resign.
"Everyone can see that the main threat to Russia today is the president," says Sergei Metrokhin, a deputy with the liberal Yabloko Party in the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament.
"He is to blame for initiating the war against Chechnya [which took place from 1994 to 1996] ... and for all the security blunders that have happened since. Our security system is clearly not working."
Russian newspapers have been full of speculation for days that Yeltsin may soon quit to clear the way for fresh presidential elections.
According to Russia's Constitution, if the president resigns the prime minister takes his place for three months, and then new polls must be held.
Last month Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin, head of the former KGB internal security service, prime minister and anointed him as his successor.
If Yeltsin resigned soon, that would force new presidential polls in December, the same time elections for the Duma and the Moscow mayor's post are to be held.
The supposed advantage for the Kremlin inner circle is that their main rivals, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, would be tied up with the other elections at that time.
"Luzhkov is enemy No. 1 for the Kremlin, and he would not want to risk losing his mayor's job by running for president in December," says Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the independent Center for Strategic Studies. "Primakov is heading the Fatherland coalition in parliamentary elections."
Mr. Putin, meanwhile, would be the incumbent for three months, meaning he would be able to muster the state's resources behind him and control the political agenda. The Kremlin's parliamentary envoy, Alexander Kotenkov, denied the rumors. "I don't see any possibility for the president to resign ahead of schedule," the official ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
Short of resigning himself, analysts say Yeltsin could resort to his favorite tactic of displacing responsibility - by firing Putin. Yeltsin met with the prime minister yesterday to demand that security countermeasures be stepped up.
"Putin's head is clearly on the block," says Mr. Metrokhin, the Duma deputy. "If he fails to solve this problem, he can be sacked as a scapegoat. But if he takes control of the situation and acts firmly, he will probably be fired anyway."
In any case, there seems little doubt that the wave of bombings has put enormous pressure on the Kremlin to delivery swiftly on its pledges to ensure that Russians can sleep safely in their beds once again.
Tens of thousands of Interior Ministry troops have been brought into control in Moscow, and the government has promised special security measures across the country. Extensive precautions have been taken at strategic points such as nuclear power stations, airports, and subway stations.
On Wednesday, a man with a thick Caucasian accent phoned Tass to take responsibility for the explosions on behalf of the Dagestani Liberation Army. He promised there would be more. Yesterday's early-morning bomb blew away the front section of a nine-story apartment building in the city of Volgodonsk, 600 miles south of Moscow.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society