- 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
- "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
- 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
- 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