The Duma's acceptance of Stepashin's nomination wasn't simply a backhanded curse. "They're deeply demoralized by their failure to impeach Yeltsin and they fear he may be out to provoke a crisis to dissolve parliament, possibly even banning them," says Quinn-Judge. "And of course, they have a demonstrably incompetent leadership." Stepashin made the usual promises about fighting corruption and reforming the economy. But Russians see Stepashin as a familiar sideshow, while real power remains in the hands of an all-powerful president whose physical and mental health are in perilous decline.
Sergei Stepashin is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. After his nomination sailed through parliament Wednesday, the former secret policeman now shares the lot of all of Boris Yeltsin's prime ministers. "The very ease with which he was confirmed will immediately rouse Yeltsin's suspicion," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "After all, for all his ill health and mental diminution, Yeltsin still controls the political system here, and he's immediately suspicious of any prime minister who appears to get along with the Duma or enjoys public confidence. Of course, a prime minister has to work with the Duma if he wants to get anything done -- but then it's open to question whether Yeltsin really wants anything to get done."