Impeachment Vote Has Boris Brandishing Ax

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Boris Yeltsin's domestic approval rating is so low that if he had the choice he'd probably fire the Russian people and appoint another. But with impeachment proceedings looming, he may settle for firing the government. Legislators decided Tuesday to schedule a vote on five articles of impeachment by Saturday, although only one -- charging Yeltsin with leading Russia into a bloody and illegal war in its rebel province of Chechnya -- has any real chance of passing. "Even then, the impeachment process here is so cumbersome as to be almost unwinnable," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "But the speculation here is that the petulant president may use an impeachment vote as a pretext for firing Prime Minister Primakov and his government."

While rumors of an imminent axing of Primakov may be a scare tactic to conscript the prime minister into lobbying against impeachment, Yeltsin remains as unpredictable as ever, and Primakov's domestic popularity -- in the relative sense in which the word is applied to Russian politicians -- has earned him the president's enmity. "Deep concern about the popularity of a rival makes Yeltsin both unpredictable and dangerous," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. Firing the government may also serve as a warning to the Russian parliament: Yeltsin wrote his constitution in such a way that if the legislature displeases him, it too can be dissolved.