So, Sergei Stepashin’s dismissal, the inevitability of which has recently been written about so much in the press, has finally taken place. Despite all predictions, the accompanying shock turned out to be rather profound. This was proved by the first reaction of the political elite: in particular, such absolutely different politicians as Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Right Cause movement, and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev used one and the same expression, “agony of power”, in their blitz interviews to Echo of Moscow radio. On the other hand, the two politicians disagreed in their forecasts of the further development of the political situation: Nemtsov believes that both the parliamentary and the presidential elections will take place in any case. Tuleev, in turn, does not rule out the possibility that the elections will be canceled – for instance, in connection with a would-be declaration of a state of emergency owing to an aggravation of the situation in the North Caucasus. Various media mentioned various reasons for Stepashin’s inevitable dismissal. Kommersant-vlast called Stepashin “a knight without a face” and noted that the former premier did not always act and express himself well (as regards, for instance, his demonstration of presidential ambitions during his visit to the US), which certainly did him a bad service: “Instead of a progressive administrator and economist, the post of premier was occupied by a political worker from the Interior Troops with typical jokes and anecdotes. Of course, such a person could not survive to see even the parliamentary election as premier, let alone the presidential one.”

The journal Profil, in turn, is of the opinion that Stepashin’s visit to the US was fairly successful and that the former premier returned to Moscow “triumphant”. Serves him right, then. Stepashin was cheeky enough to dare to discuss with President Clinton such problems as only the Russian president has the authority to discuss, “for instance, foreign policy and the military-strategic positions of the two countries’ relations, as well as the future of the START-1 and START-2 pacts and the Anti-Missile Defense Treaty.” In addition, Stepashin stated that the Yugoslavian president should share the blame for the Yugoslavian conflict with NATO and added, “Milosevic does not suit us.” That was a political mistake: “Russian premiers do not behave in such a way.” The more so as everyone who was asked by “Profil” to say in exactly which circles Stepashin enjoys support failed to reply. “One gets the impression that Stepashin actually does not have any support, and a politician who is not specially supported by anybody is like a balloon which can be inflated and then pierced – it will be regretted but soon forgotten.”

Kommersant-daily unambiguously named exactly Stepashin’s successful debut in the international arena as the reason for his (at that time would-be) dismissal: “The president’s jealousy of his premiers’ achievements is universally known. In addition, in public speeches Stepashin affords free remarks concerning various inconvenient topics, including the president’s state of health.”

However, it was more frequently the case that the media named another reason for the president’s discontent, namely, Stepashin’s indifference towards politics, or, to be more exact, the position “above the fray” which the premier assumed as regards the Kremlin administration’s struggle against Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov. Segodnya remarked that when Stepashin, “despite the Kremlin’s distinct political order to form a new type of ‘party of power’, made it clear that he did not intend to join any electoral blocs, it became clear that the president’s wrath would inevitably follow.”

We can imagine how irritated the Kremlin was by the premier’s declaration published by Izvestia: “The government should always remain unblemished by political squabbles, especially during an election year… It is absolutely clear that there can be no winners in a war of everybody against everyone, in a total combat. This is not a struggle for power or influence. This is a struggle for mutual destruction. Therefore, all sides of this war should start negotiating with each other.” After that, assumptions were made that the premier, who had turned out to be too “soft”, might be replaced by Vladimir Putin, Director of the FSS and Secretary of the Security Council – who is tougher and more merciless toward the president’s enemies.

The important factor is that, for instance, Vremya MN appraised Putin’s possible appointment as premier as a rather liberal a scenario, unlike another, “obscurantist” one, which stipulated appointment of Nikolai Aksenenko. “Vremya MN” called Putin “the upgraded version of Stepashin – another ‘real intellectual from St. Petersburg’, only more resolute, consistent, and earnest – devoted to Yeltsin’s cause and democratic ideals.” On the other hand, the paper notes that Aksenenko has one very significant advantage: “Yeltsin has not forgotten this man – he grew extremely fond of Aksenenko as long ago as during the last governmental reshuffle.” However, in the end Yeltsin’s team managed to convince him that Putin “is the ideal figure on the political Olympus, practically a ready-made successor…and that it would be unwise to discard such people.”

It is of interest that, according to Vremya MN, the very question of why the premier should be replaced “was discussed only in a narrow circle of people, if it was discussed at all.” Meanwhile, Moscow News weekly suggests a radical alternative answer to the aforementioned question. According to the paper, Stepashin’s replacement by Putin, who is capable of making tough decisions and enjoys authority among the security services, was resorted to not just because of Yeltsin’s notorious love for personnel reshuffles. One week prior to a similar assertion by Tuleev, “Moscow News” announced the possibility that the president could be intending not only to replace the premier but also to dissolve the Duma if it did not confirm the new candidate for premier (and this possibility is rather high). “After this Yeltsin would retire, and Putin, appointed premier by presidential decree, would absolutely legitimately become acting president, and thus receive a beautiful springboard for running in the presidential election.” The authors of this plan were mistaken as regards at least one thing: as is known, the voting on Putin’s candidacy for premier is scheduled for August 16, and so far not a single Duma faction has declared its intention to object to the president’s nominee. The deputies cannot afford such quixotry four months before the parliamentary election for the mere sake of the pleasure of giving the Kremlin a lot of trouble.

Another question which is currently absorbing everybody’s attention is Stepashin’s political fate. When, in accordance with the well-known rule that “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” the Kremlin was trying to get the premier into the newly-created Fatherland-All Russia bloc, one of the leaders of Luzhkov’s part of the bloc stated, according to Segodnya, that Stepashin might become a member of the coalition “only as the former premier”. Now this condition has been fairly met by Stepashin.

On the other hand, currently the demand for former premiers is so great that the possibility cannot be ruled out that, as was (and still is) the case with Primakov, Stepashin will receive piles of invitations from various parties, and that his only problem will be to make the right choice. For instance, Primakov has not yet said anything definite to numerous barkers from various parties, despite all their pains. Tribuna, for instance, expresses the assumption that the merger of Fatherland and All Russia was organized in such a pompous manner partly in order to exert additional pressure on Primakov, “to make him understand that the train has already started off, and it is high time he hopped on the last car, otherwise he may well be left alone on the deserted platform.” However, the former premier continued to keep a poker face. It is not by chance that the press is now comparing Primakov with not only Field Marshal Kutuzov (like Vek weekly) but also Deng Xiao-Ping (like Moscow News): “Serenity, predictability, comprehensible vocabulary – apparently, we must inevitably live through the reign of the ‘firm economists’ and ‘prominent politicians’. The power of bureaucracy – well, this may well be called the Chinese variant.”

Some are getting more and more irritated at Primakov’s silence. Komsomolskaya Pravda asks itself what Primakov has up his sleeve that’s so valuable that the electorate “is all but begging Primakov to become president?” The celebrated social stability, the paper asserts, was reached at the expense of concessions on the part of the president, economic stability was the result of the growth of world oil prices, and nothing at all is to be said about political stability. And if we take into account the problems with Primakov’s health and draw parallels between Primakov and the current president, nothing will remain of the bright image of the former premier: “Primakov will then appear to be a decrepit bureaucratic old man, a nice person to play a game of chess with… But even his contemporaries will vote for other candidates.”

Inostranets weekly describes Primakov’s image in similar terms and concludes, “In general, it does not become Russia to enter the 21st century with a former member of the Central Committee of the CPSS as president.”

Meanwhile, what is making the Kremlin Administration especially nervous is the possibility of Primakov joining the Fatherland-All Russia bloc. Nezavisimaya Gazeta states in this connection, “How the situation will develop depends only on Primakov. If he refuses to do Luzhkov and Shaimiev the honor of joining their bloc as its leader, the bloc would lose much of its political weight and will not be so dangerous for the Kremlin. If, on the other hand, Primakov agrees to join, the Presidential Administration’s reaction may be anything, up to cancellation of the elections.”

On the other hand, it is possible that, in the new situation following Stepashin’s dismissal, the Kremlin Administration will have new reasons to worry: according to Echo of Moscow, Stepashin may well enter the bloc of Luzhkov and Shaimiev.

We must add that the fact that former premiers do not give up politics is understandable. What is not is the growth of their ratings after their dismissal, as it was the case with Primakov. Another unexplainable phenomenon is that all the attempts – up to the most exotic ones – to smear Primakov’s reputation have up to now invariably failed. The latest such attempt was Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s speculation that by offering Primakov the post of cochairman of the new bloc, Luzhkov is pursuing very concrete goals: “Primakov suits the bloc of Luzhkov and Shaimiev as their future representative in the lower house, but nothing more than that. Otherwise, he will simply be an obstacle in Luzhkov’s way of running for president.” To prove this assumption, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” quotes a large part of an article published in Moskovskaya Pravda, a paper completely controlled by the mayor of Moscow. The article in question concerns the results of sociological research carried out to learn the attitudes of Russian citizens’ towards politicians’ nationalities. The political establishment was divided into five parts: Russians, Ukrainians, Tartars, Jews, and “persons of unidentified nationality”, i.e. politicians whose nationality is unclear. It turned out, that, in the respondents’ opinion, the “Russian group” of politicians (to which, of course, Luzhkov was ascribed) is the scantiest one. On the other hand, quality is what counts in the “Russian group”. There are rather many Tartars, Ukrainians, and Jews among Russian politicians. The paper gives relevant examples, arrives at the conclusion that there is no anti-Semitism in Russia, but after that adds, “On the other hand, the respondents are not inclined to entrust the Jews with the fate of this country, and believe that for them the Jews the main things are personal profit and the well-being of their own country Israel, no doubt – translator’s note.” Further on, the paper shifts to the person of Primakov, whom “not everybody takes to be a Jew: it was not before a number of papers asserted that Primakov’s true last name is Kirschenblatt that he was ascribed to the ‘Jewish group’ of politicians.” On the other hand, according to “Moskovskaya Pravda”, some respondents still ascribed Primakov to the group of politicians of “unidentified nationality”, “apparently believing that Kirschenblatt is a fiction thought up either by Primakov’s enemies or his underground alias. Indeed, an alias in Yiddish is a real godsend for Primakov, a specialist in Arabic studies.”

In conclusion, the paper maintains that “Russians would not like to see a politician of a background other than Russian as their president. The respondents failed to give exact reasons for this attitude.”

Quoting these computations in detail, Nezavisimaya Gazeta addresses Primakov with the following words, “So, that’s it, Yevgeny Maksimovich! If you are offered the job of lobbying for Luzhkov’s interests in the Duma you might as well accept the offer, but do not even think of anything better that that, otherwise the Russians will immediately be reminded of who is ‘echt Russisch’ and who is not quite ‘echt’.” We should note that this dubious passage is supposed to kill two birds with one stone: reveal Luzhkov’s true insidiousness to Primakov and simultaneously announce Primakov’s true ethnicity to Russians (since, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the article in “Moskovskaya Pravda” was nearly unnoticed by the public). On the other hand, “Izvestia” states that Boris Berezovsky, who owns “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, has gone even farther than that: in the pilot airing of the revamped information and analytical program “Vremya”, he “openly read a list of high-ranking Jews.” However, “Izvestia” states, that, to Berezovsky’s regret, Primakov was not hurt by this anti-Semitic prank: “What is of much greater importance to a Russian person of Soviet make is a different opposition: our person vs. stranger. For such a person, Chubais is a Jew merely because he is ‘not ours’, while Primakov is ‘ours’ for those who are tired of choosing and being responsible for their choice, and therefore Primakov is not a Jew.” Here, “Izvestia” once again recalls Kutuzov from “War and Peace”, who “fits the Russian ideal of a military commander, who…sleeps in a corner inconspicuously through the whole council in Fili and then suddenly awakens – and does not prevent the victory from taking place.” The only question is whether or not Primakov will manage to awaken in time.

In general, when commenting on the creation of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc, the press offered the entire range of possible evaluations. Naturally, opponents of the merger issued skeptical appraisals: “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, for instance, is confident that as soon as the new bloc enters the Duma it will inevitably separate into factions which will start fighting each other owing to the difference in the interests of the Moscow and regional parts of the alliance. Vremya MN remarked condescendingly that the reason for the merger was the two parties’ weakness and lack of funds to organize an electoral campaign. Moskovsky Komsomolets, in turn, stated joyously that the merger was Luzhkov’s first serious victory (apparently this view is shared by the Kremlin Administration, otherwise its reaction to the loss of the “regional story of power” to the mayor of Moscow would not have been as radical as dismissal of the government).

Izvestia notes the gloating tone of the comments by the Kremlin’s enemies and expresses the opinion that nobody actually has any reasons to rejoice except the eternal and omnipotent Russian bureaucracy or, as the paper calls it, “the Russian heads”: “They ‘the heads’ have every chance of living through the dangerous zone which threatens a radical redistribution of all authority, not only without any losses but even with profit – at any rate they will gain time and retain their current posts for another electoral cycle.” This appraisal of “Izvestia” is shared by Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the CPRF, who called the Fatherland-All Russia bloc “a new party of power”. According to Zyuganov, if the previous party of power, namely Our Home is Russia, actually fails in the election, its successor – Fatherland-All Russia – has every chance of winning the election for one simple reason: “There is no alternative.”

“Izvestia” states that the left-wing parties will certainly fail in the upcoming election, but that the right-wing ones have no better chance that the lefts: “The emptiness to the right of the centrist forces is shocking. The political names which from time to time appear on the right flank of Russian politics not only enjoy no great popularity but seem to love each other even less than their common opponents.” The reasons for this organizational insolvency are that, having made certain attempts to uniting after August 17, 1999, the incipient middle class has not yet brought those attempts to their logical conclusion. “It appears that currently these attempts are proving to be both insufficiently quick and insufficiently large-scale,” the paper concludes.

An article published by Novye Izvestia tells readers what the inadequacy of the situation on the eve of the upcoming elections (if any) may cost politicians. The article in question tells about research into the moods of voters in provinces, or, to be more exact, in the Volgograd region – one of the regions of the so-called “red belt”. The results may be called sensational. The research embraced the normally most active part of voters – people between 50 and 70 years of age. Although the majority of respondents still intend to vote, the motives of their political preferences have changed greatly. Currently, depressive or aggressive tendencies prevail in the said focus group. “The respondents see their life in a bad light and see prospects neither for themselves, nor for their children and grandchildren, nor for the country in general… The majority of them are living from one day to the next. Even in conversations they practically do not use the future tense and do not mention any plans or goals… The inability to see prospects, dissatisfaction, fear, and pessimism will be some of the determining factors in the choices of residents of “red” regions for Russia’s new president in 2000.” The powers that be have gotten out of touch with the people. “The modern-day ideologies, programs, and technologies which electoral associations intend to use during the electoral campaign for the Duma currently do not work in the provinces. Research demonstrates that people take no interest in speeches about state power, the restoration of Orthodox churches, and discussions on topics like ‘We can no longer live this way’, etc.”

In such a hopeless situation, the image of an enemy is certain to form. So, who is aged people’s enemy these days? There are actually four of them. Enemy Number One is the powers that be, and the central rather than the local ones, at that (“Nothing is being done for ordinary people,” “They care exclusively for themselves,” “A gang of moneybags they are!”). Enemy Number Two (this is very typical) is people of nationalities other than Russian, which implies natives of the Caucasus. The third enemy is democrats. Finally, the fourth enemy is “new Russians” (people who have made a lot of money since 1991 – ed.). Special concern of the researchers was caused by an outburst of nationalistic attitudes among aged people of the Volgograd region: “We are worn out by immigrants from the Caucasus. They take us to be pigs.” “The authorities are letting them turn us into slaves.”

At the same time, none of those who expressed such ideas regard themselves as fascists. In old people’s perception, fascists and Nazis are those who are currently humiliating their dignity, not letting them eat, dress, and rest well (namely the authorities, immigrants from the Caucasus, democrats, and “new Russians”).

What is observed as a result of this is a paradoxical situation: younger generations are to live in the future, but aged people, who, as has already been mentioned, often determine the result of elections, are depriving other age groups of a “better future” by their negative and apathetic attitudes.

The only thing left to say is that, along with dismissing Stepashin and appointing Putin premier and at the same time the president’s successor (and democratically-attuned politicians have already expressed their indignation at the president’s omnipotent manners), Yeltsin signed a decree on holding the parliamentary election on December 19, 1999. Despite skeptics’ remarks that the new decree will not be a great obstacle in the way of canceling the election if the president wishes to do so, the official electoral campaign has finally started.