The firing of the executive secretary of the CIS,Boris Berezovsky, does not signal an end to the government crisis, unless,of course, President Boris Yeltsin has already backed down and will notpress for more changes in the government. Without outside influence andpolitical intrigues, Prime Minister Evgenii Primakov’s Cabinet cannot remainin its present state. At the very least, a reshuffle is in order. The ongoingfailure to come to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, theimminent threat of another Russian default, and the simple absence of aneconomic strategy, are all problems that the present government has provedincapable of solving.
President Yeltsin stated clearly that "regardlessof the difficulties that have arisen, we need to reach an agreement withthe IMF." Russia will have to resolve its difficulties on its own, withoutcounting on concessions from the IMF or the goodwill of countries holdingthe IMF’s purse strings. Japan has already indicated to the Russians that,until an agreement with the IMF is reached, Russia will not receive thecredit promised by Japan’s Eximbank. Yeltsin will have no choice but toask Primakov to look for domestic reserves, and as a first step, to replacethe head of the Russian delegation for negotiations with the IMF. The presenthead of the delegation is Yuri Masliukov, first deputy prime minister anda key figure in Primakov’s Cabinet. Masliukov is aware of the clouds gatheringover him, signalling either resignation or at least a considerable decreasein his influence within the government. Masliukov has been looking tense.Certain statements like, "The IMF is putting pressure on Russia," and,"Michel Camdessus and Stanley Fisher are great artists and great economists,"in his address to the IMF indicate the pressure Masliukov is under. Itis highly unlikely that after coming out with such comments, Masliukovwill be able to continue heading negotiations with international financialorganisations.
When Primakov’s Cabinet was first formed, thendeputy prime minister Aleksandr Shokhin was responsible for negotiationswith financial organisations. When Shokhin left the government, the otherministers, headed by Masliukov, advised Primakov not to fill the vacancythat had arisen, but to let them divide the responsibilities among themselves.Thus, Masliukov became not only the number one economist in the government,but one of the top diplomats as well.
Now, the time has come to share some of that power.Whether this will be achieved through radical steps or through compromisedepends on what kind of agreement is reached by Primakov and Yeltsin. IfYeltsin limits himself to a reshuffle within the Cabinet, then Primakovwill have two possible options. He can either reinstate the post of specialrepresentative of Russia to the IMF and give Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornovthe job, replacing him with Aleksandr Zhukov, head of the Duma budget committee;or he can offer up Shokhin’s old deputy prime ministerial job and bringone of the liberals into the Cabinet. In this case, the choice of appointeewould be made not by Primakov and his ministers, but by the president.
Neither option is going to please Masliukov norPrimakov will be happy; but both options preserve the coalition natureof the government. The coalition will fall apart, however, if Masliukovis forced to resign. After all, it is his presence in the government thathas so far guaranteed the support of the Communist majority in the Duma.Primakov wants to avoid this situation and is perhaps afraid of such aturn of events. That is why he has already publicly announced that he hasnever been a traitor and has no intention of letting go of his deputiesfor the sake of political advantage.
Other factors have come into play though. Primakov’sdeputies, and Masliukov in particular, have again been accused of corruptionby the press. The president himself has asked the head of his administration,Nikolai Bordiuzha, to investigate. Bordiuzha, in turn, ordered the SecurityCouncil to assign the appropriate law enforcement bodies with carryingout the investigation. If this procedure is followed and the insistencewith which the president has taken the affair under his control suggeststhat it will be - then the person under investigation is required to temporarilystep down from office. It will be difficult for Primakov to quarrel withthis, especially because when he was first appointed he vowed that shouldproof of corruption among his deputies be proven, he would immediatelytake steps to "clean" his Cabinet.
It is highly likely then that the issue of whetherMasliukov stays or goes will be settled by his temporary removal from office.But at least it’s just "enforced leave" rather than definite resignation,though it is hard to say what would be better for Masliukov.
One version has it that the Communists themselvesare trying to manoeuvre their comrade out of the Cabinet. In the very nearfuture the Communist Party leadership will discuss "whether or not it iswise to have Communist Party members continue their participation in thegovernment." In the event that Masliukov needs a way out, the CommunistParty will order him to leave the government for ideological reasons. Thewhole objective here is to save face, and Primakov and Gennadii Zyuganovwill personally come to an agreement on this matter. It is doubtful though,that they will manage to resolve the main issue at hand: keeping the governmentintact. It makes no sense to simply replace Masliukov with another Communist.In any case, of all the left wingers, Masliukov is the one furthest tothe right.
Primakov has little choice then. He does not wantto fire Masliukov, but not to dismiss him will set him on a collision coursewith the president. Of course, he can put himself on the line for the sakeof his subordinate and make a declaration like, "If he goes, I go." Thiswill be possible only if the issue is just Masliukov’s failure as negotiatorwith the IMF. If the corruption affair does not die down and the allegationsare confirmed, then the prime minister may have to sacrifice himself notout of loyalty to his ministers, but because the law obliges him to. Primakovhas been caught off-guard by the problems that have arisen within his government,and instead of the stability of which he was so proud, the country maywell find itself in the midst of a serious political crisis.