PM's sacking brings `selfish' Yeltsin under fire from press

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT BORIS Yeltsin may think he has won the most recent round of the Russian political game. The desire of MPs to keep their places as useful election springboards, if not concern for national unity in the face of a new Caucasian war, will probably prod them to endorse Vladimir Putin, his latest candidate for prime minister.

However, if a chorus of condemnation from the Russian press is anything to go by, the Kremlin leader looks ultimately a loser. Newspapers unanimously concluded yesterday that Mr Yeltsin had abandoned all care for the country and acted from motives of selfishness and self-preservation in sacking Sergei Stepashin, a perfectly good prime minister who barely had time to achieve anything.

"Fired Because of a Family Complication", ran the headline in the daily Sevodnya, more or less spelling out what many Russians think - that their leader's only concern is to find a successor who will protect his entourage from corruption proceedings.

Novaya Izvestia also implied this when it said there was no reason for dismissing Mr Stepashin. "In the record short 80 days of his government, he hardly achieved anything positive but of course he did not mess anything up, either."

The newspaper ran a cartoon of Mr Putin, formerly the head of the Federal Security Service, being crowned Prince Regent. Commentators say that Kremlin sponsorship is now the kiss of death for a Russian politician, so unpopular has Mr Yeltsin become.

"The President does not enjoy even minimal support from any layer of society or government institutions, which in one way or another are hostages to [his] moods," said Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

One after the other, former allies of the President have been forced into opposition. Yesterday, the newly formed alliance of Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, and Russia's regional governors said there would be an "honourable" place for Mr Stepashin in their ranks, if he wanted it. But not the top position. With that, they are still hoping to woo the former prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov.

As the opposition to the Kremlin grows, it seems less and less likely that anyone nominated by Mr Yeltsin could win power in a free election. But then, free elections may not be what the President intends.

The Moscow Times noted in an editorial that Mr Yeltsin was protesting too loudly about his commitment to democracy. Just as, nearly a year ago, he swore there would be no rouble devaluation. Categorically, not. And the very next day there was a devastating rouble devaluation.