Yeltsin Plays Roulette With Russia's Economy

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Moscow's Kosovo mediation will likely survive Boris Yeltsin's latest putsch, but Russia's economy may wind up as "collateral damage." The surest sign of that Thursday was the ruble's resumption of its precipitous plunge, which the Yevgeny Primakov government, fired by Yeltsin on Wednesday, had managed to halt. And investors had good reason to be very afraid. "The IMF has made clear it won't give Russia a cent until a new package of reform legislation has been passed," says TIME Moscow correspondent Yuri Zarakhovich. "There's no way a cabinet that doesn't yet exist will put together that legislation and pass it through a hostile Duma in time for the IMF's July meeting."

Yeltsin is threatening to dissolve the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, and call new elections unless his new pick for prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, is approved. That looked unlikely Thursday, as legislators proceeded with moves to impeach Yeltsin, setting the stage for a showdown. While the constitution allows Yeltsin to dissolve the legislature if it rejects his nominee three times, it also forbids dissolution of the Duma while impeachment proceedings are under way. That may look like a constitutional crisis in a Western democracy, but in Boris Yeltsin's Russia lawyers and judges don't get the last word: The last time Yeltsin had a constitutional showdown with his legislature, in 1993, he resolved it by simply sending over a squadron of tanks and ordering them to open fire.