Pale Yeltsin makes TV appearance

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The Independent Online

A PALLID Boris Yeltsin appeared briefly on television for the first time in a week as the Kremlin vainly tried to dispel the impression thatpower over Russia has passed into the hands of his Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov.

A PALLID Boris Yeltsin appeared briefly on television for the first time in a week as the Kremlin vainly tried to dispel the impression thatpower over Russia has passed into the hands of his Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov.

Mr Yeltsin's fleeting return to public view yesterday after retreating to hospital with an ulcer amounted to a counter-attack in a skirmish over anattempt to sideline him for the rest of his term, in which Mr Primakov played a leading part. At issue is a proposal, sent to parliament by MrPrimakov, in which Mr Yeltsin would forgo his powers to dismiss it in return for a guarantee of immunity for prosecution for any crimes hemay be accused of committing during his eight years in the Kremlin - a period marred by corruption and war in Chechnya.

It also provided for his safety and welfare after he retires, officially next year. The President's spin-doctors said it was unconstitutional butinsisted there was no disagreement between Mr Yeltsin and his prime minister. But to the outside world it bore the hallmarks of an ambitiouspower play by a man increasingly seen as the heir to the Kremlin.Signs have been growing for weeks that Mr Primakov, former head of the foreign intelligence service, is consolidating his power base. Thisweek Yuri Kobaladze, former public relations man for the intelligence agency, was appointed deputy head of Itar-Tass news agency. He is thetenth former intelligence officer to acquire an influential new job during Mr Primakov's five months in office. Mr Primakov has several keyadvantages: the national media is mostly muted in its criticism of him and some heavy hitters - notably the influential Itogi current affairsprogramme on television - barely disguise their eagerness to see him in the Kremlin.The support he enjoys ranges from the moderate wing of the Communists to the liberal Yabloko party.

Unlike any of his predecessors, there is little chance of being fired by the boss. Mr Yeltsin will not want a rerun of his defeat by parliament lastyear, when the State Duma refused to confirm his first choice, Viktor Chernomyrdin, as prime minister.

Mr Primakov can also expect broad approval from the West. His interventionist economics chills the hearts of free- marketeers and investors.But policy-makers will view him as a better option than the other main contenders, the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, the CommunistGennady Zyuganov and the former paratroop general Alexander Lebed, now governor of a Siberian province.

The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, saw Messrs Luzhkov and Lebed on her visit to Moscow this week. US-Russian relations havebeen strained by rows over Iraq, and US sanctions against several leading Moscow institutes for allegedly supplying missile and nuclear secretsto Iran.

But neither man will have offered Ms Albright any reason to hope for anything more palatable from them. Mr Luzhkov - a feisty nationalistwho has been frantically trying to raise his profile in recent days - upbraided her over US policy, while Mr Lebed made headlines by sackingthe head of his regional state-run television channel, saying he saw it has his job to "provide the people with information".

Mr Primakov is a wily old bird, part Homo Sovieticus, part cautious reformer. But he is the devil the West knows and in this precarious habitatthat matters a great deal.

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