Yeltsin's Imperial Swan Song

  • Share
  • Read Later
MOSCOW: He may not hold many cards, but declining to play them allows Boris Yeltsin to control the game. Yeltsin kept Russia on tenterhooks Wednesday, waiting to hear whether the president would renominate Viktor Chernomyrdin or accept a compromise candidate as prime minister. "The reason for Yeltsin's silence isn't clear," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "He's known to withdraw and get depressed when he's under pressure. But it could also be a maneuver to keep everyone off balance -- it's certainly having that effect."

Yeltsin is running out of time. "He is no longer a powerful individual," says Quinn-Judge, "but his presidency remains all-powerful. So Yeltsin can retain the initiative simply by doing nothing." But the political deal that will underwrite a new government -- whoever is at its head -- is likely to strip the presidency of many of its executive powers, including the right to appoint and dismiss the government. So the current silence could be Yeltsin's autocratic swan song. And constitutionally, it can last only until Monday.