Leading Article: Tsar Boris has done Russia a disservice

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The Independent Culture
WOE BETIDE he who is perceived to threaten an ailing, wrathful tsar. Thus may be explained the fate of Yevgeny Primakov, the latest victim of this age-old law of Russian governance. Boris Yeltsin resented Mr Primakov because his Prime Minister was infinitely more popular and, thanks to his support in the Duma, in some respects more powerful than himself. Second, he had permitted investigations into alleged corruption to go ahead against members of the President's family and inner circle. In earlier times, Mr Primakov might have faced a show trial; instead he has merely been sacked. But the relative modesty of the punishment should not hide the disturbing implications of what has happened; both for Russia's internal political stability and for the management of the Kosovo crisis.

In his eight months in office, Mr Primakov did little to tackle his country's appalling economic difficulties. But inertia brought a stability of sorts that has vanished. The one Russian politician who might have persuaded the parliament to vote for the tough reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund, essential if the country is to put its financial house in order, has been dismissed. The Communists, the largest single party in the Duma, are up in arms, and could well prevent confirmation of Sergei Stepashin, Mr Yeltsin's young protege, who has been named to succeed Mr Primakov. Fresh elections may be unavoidable, there are even mutterings of a coup in the offing. At the very least, the stalled impeachment proceedings against Mr Yeltsin will gain fresh momentum.

But the President's erratic behaviour could destroy hopes of Russia playing a role in ending the Balkans war. Mr Yeltsin's threat to withdraw from the diplomatic process because Nato has ignored Russia's demand for a halt to its bombing suggests he is seeking to assuage his nationalist critics, led by the Communists. If he is obliged to carry out the threat, and thus dash prospects of an agreed UN resolution, the Kosovo crisis would enter a more perilous phase. By sacking Mr Primakov, Russia's modern tsar has done both his country and the international community a grave disservice.

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