Will Yeltsin’s Stepdown Bring Stability to Russia?

The surprise resignation of Russian president Boris Yeltsin on Dec. 31 was obviously designed to create the impression that political stability is being restored in Russia. Premier Vladimir Putin, now interim president, has been getting high ratings in public opinion polls.

On the other hand, the largely discredited Yeltsin was a physical and political ruin. Thus, a fresh instrument seemed to replace a used-up one. Moreover, this shift in the top post came after a strong showing of the “Bear” coalition put together by the Yeltsin forces for the recent parliamentary elections.

In reality, the change of the presidency points up the extreme instability of the Russian political system. The “Bear” received less than a quarter of the vote, whereas 50 percent is necessary to elect a president. Moreover, this coalition was cobbled together without any clear unifying program or common goals, other than to feed at the public trough. Russian commentators nearly unanimously expect it to begin to come apart relatively quickly.

Furthermore, Putin’s popularity is based entirely on the image of “decisiveness” he gained by launching an atrocious war against the Chechen people. This war has been initially popular because of the frustrated great-power chauvinism and racism, fostered by Stalinism, that infects a large part of the Russian people, as well as by the shock created by murderous terrorist bombings attributed to Chechen rebels.

Putin and the corrupt clique of nouveaux riches that support Yeltsin, however, are well aware that this war popularity is not likely to last long. The Russian rulers are proving less and less successful in blocking the spread of news about the atrocities committed against the Chechen people, as well as about the growing casualties inflicted on the Russian army by desperate and self-sacrificing Chechen fighters.

In the Dec. 31 issue of the Italian left daily Il Manifesto, K.S. Karol wrote that Putin had forced Yeltsin to resign in order to get the presidential elections sooner, before his war leader image turns sour.

That was in fact suggested by Yeltsin’s speech of resignation, in which he says, “I remain convinced that the presidential elections should have taken place in June 2000,” as they would have if he had finished his term. After his resignation, they have been set for March 26.

In this speech, Yeltsin apologized to the Russian people for his failure to keep the promises that led them to put him in power. In fact, during his rise to power he had built an image of a courageous fighter against bureaucratic privilege and a defender of the interests of the poor masses. He leaves power having betrayed all those promises, as the pathetic front man for a clique of super-rich bandits.

How much credibility are the Russian masses likely now to give the gray, cynical KGB bureaucrat Putin, to whom Yeltsin has turned over his discredited legacy? – GERRY FOLEY

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