Primakov Filling Power
Vacuum in Russia As
Yeltsin Declines
MOSCOW (AP) -- Officially, nothing has changed. But over the past few weeks, power in Russia has been steadily slipping out of Boris Yeltsin's weakened grip and into the waiting hands of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.
Nearly two months after his appointment as premier, the former KGB spymaster and diplomat finds himself carrying out most of the country's leadership duties.
Yeltsin has been confined to a rest home, this time for treatment of what is being described as exhaustion.
The 67-year-old Yeltsin, who has been a part-time president for months, may well return to work, as he has after previous illnesses. His deputy chief of staff conceded in an interview published Wednesday however, that Yeltsin is relinquishing control over day-to-day affairs.
"The president's main work will become revising the constitution," Oleg Sysuyev told the newspaper Sevodnya. He added that Yeltsin's most important task will be "to turn over stable power to his successor."
Primakov, who turns 69 on Thursday, "is now fully responsible for the economy," Sysuyev said.
The prime minister's de facto ascent comes at a crucial time for Russia, reeling from the effects of its deepest economic crisis in years.
Although he is widely admired in Russia as a defender of the country's interests and because he is unfettered by political ties, some are beginning to wonder when Primakov is going to start doing something.
Primakov has taken some measures. He has paid some wage and pension arrears, restored some measure of political calm to the country and helped bring at least temporary stability to the ruble, now worth a third of what it was in August.
He has even promised to restore Russia's national soccer team to glory. Confidence in his government, as measured by public opinion polls, is surprisingly strong in a nation of skeptics -- 37 per cent in one recent survey.
And there are rumblings about Primakov as a potential presidential candidate. He has dismissed such speculation as "rubbish."
So far, though, Primakov has yet to announce a coherent plan for tackling the country's economic crisis.
"I don't see any real practical results of his government's performance," said Yevgeny Volk, political analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation. "Well, maybe the only result is that the situation isn't radically deteriorating, causing a catastrophe. But this is mostly a result of him doing nothing."
Primakov, whose career was launched as a newspaper correspondent in the Middle East, vaulted to world attention in 1990-91 as the special envoy of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Primakov tried, but was unable, to broker a deal with Iraq to avert the Gulf War.
Later, as Yeltsin's spy chief and foreign minister, he developed Russia's "multipolar" view of the world, which sees its mission as fending off the United States' drive to be the world's only superpower.
Robert Legvold, a professor of political science at Columbia University who specializes in Russian affairs, has known Primakov personally since the early 1970s. He sees his slow start as prime minister as the legacy of a scholar and diplomat who is used to deliberation and compromise.
"He really does like to think things through," Legvold said, dismissing critics who believe Primakov is a Soviet holdover who will jerk the country back into communism.
"In a phrase, the threat is not turning the clock back," he said. "The threat is, as the Russians say, 'kasha' (porridge)."
In other words, Legvold said: "a muddled mess."