Yeltsin manoeuvres while support for Communism grows
Boris Yeltsin's dismissal of Sergei Stepashin as Prime Minister has brought more instability and chaos to the country at a time when war by Islamic fundamentalists on the borders of Chechnya and Dagestan is being whipped up and NATO manouevres to cut off Russia from the oil-rich former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Stepashin had just returned from Dagestan and before that had made a controversial visit to the USA, an unpopular move in the wake of NATO's war on Yugoslavia. His predecessor, Evgenny Primakov, had been en route to the US when NATO started bombing and had turned his plane around and returned to Moscow in protest. There had been talk that Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov intended to take action in the Duma to prosecute Stepashin for threats to Russian democracy he made during his US trip, but Zyuganov has labelled Stepashin's sacking "a blow to the whole country". While in the US, Stepashin fuelled speculation that Yeltsin is planning to provoke a state of emergency when he confided to the entourage of Vice- President (and Presidential candidate) Al Gore that the Russian Government would "use the security organs, if we have to, to stop the Communist Party from coming to power". It is rumoured that Yeltsin actually signed the decree to declare a state of emergency in April but that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia intervened. It may also have been intended as a retaliatory measure if the Duma had carried its impeachment motion against Yeltsin. Under a state of emergency, Yeltsin could cancel the parliamentary elections in December and the presidential elections in May-June 2000. Yeltsin had also been canvassing the alternative idea of his defying the constitution and standing for another term, but his chances of winning would be slim indeed. It is estimated that $200 million was spent to secure Yeltsin's election last time. (George Bush Jr, by comparison, will spend around $70 million in his effort to win the US White House.) Yeltsin now appears to be pursuing a different tactic, naming his new Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, as his "preferred successor" in next year's election. Meanwhile, the attacks on the Communists and on all progressive political figures are becoming more intense as support for the Communists grows across the board in Russia. Previous PM Primakov, easily the most capable and honest man to have held the PM's job and the first who might have achieved some positive turnaround in the country's fortunes, is clearly too hostile to the interests of the new financial oligarchs whom Yeltsin has helped to pillage billions from the country's wealth. He has been vilified in a spate of attacks including ludicrous allegations of bribe-taking. Also part of this anti-Communist campaign are the almost daily threats by the Kremlin to remove Lenin's body from its mausoleum and "give him a proper burial". The anti-Lenin propaganda emanating continuously from the Yeltsin camp has had some effect. In a recent poll, 80 percent chose Leonid Brezhnev as "the greatest Russian leader this century". This result also reflected a growing awareness that for most people life in the USSR during Brezhnev's term as President was much better than any time in the last decade. In the elections for governor of Sverdlovsk, where Yeltsin comes from, the favoured candidate is Leonid Brezhnev's son, Andrei, who has formed his own political party dedicated to reviving what he terms the "prosperity and vitality of the Brezhnev era". In another recent poll, the majority of respondents "regretted" the collapse of the Soviet Union, although less for ideological reasons than for the loss of national prestige and superpower status that it entailed. The anti-Communist campaign is becoming more strident, partly because it isn't working any more. There is very little overt anti-Communism to be met with among ordinary people. Luzhkov, the populist Mayor of Moscow and a Presidential hopeful, has been making overtures to the Communists in recent months about an alliance. Another disturbing factor for the anti-Communist camp is the fact that the Communist Party's electorate appears to be renewing itself. Once deemed to be finite and doomed to disappear as it aged, it is now riding a groundswell of support among young people, 18-25 year olds in particular. At a recent lecture in Moscow, Gaidar, the first post-Soviet Prime Minister, quoted a poll showing that prior to NATO's war on Yugoslavia 95 percent of young Muscovites had some pro-Western sentiments, but that now the figure was closer to only 50 percent. These developments have imperialism scared rigid.