The Anti-Boris Joins a Russian Juggernaut

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Having remained in Boris Yeltsin’s fickle employ just long enough for Russians to get attached to him, Yevgeny Primakov is back –- and he’s brought nearly all of Yeltsin’s enemies with him. The former foreign minister, ex-KGB spymaster and sometime prime minister announced Tuesday he would head up the broad Fatherland-All Russia coalition just formed by Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. With Yeltsin having promised to step down in 2000 but looking to install a chosen successor (possibly prime minister du jour Vladimir Putin), Primakov's candid 10-minute speech –- remarkably full of detail for a Russian politician –- was aimed squarely at citizens frustrated by their current leader’s bombastic incoherence. If Primakov were into sound bites, it would have been: I knew Boris Yeltsin, and I’m no Boris Yeltsin.

Primakov is proposing a weaker presidency, a stronger prime minister, and a Duma (parliament) that actually matters –- all catnip, of course, to non-Yeltsin pols. He also wants a vice president, a position abolished by Boris after a failed coup attempt by said veep. "We could well be looking at Yeltsin's nightmare ticket for the coming presidential elections: Primakov for president and Luzhkov as prime minister," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "Even in his mental fog, Yeltsin must see that the program is an implicit rejection of everything that he has presided over." Primakov even tossed Yeltsin what could be an olive branch: the prospect of immunity for the Yeltsin "family" if Boris can step down quietly when his term runs out. A different, stable Russia and an exit strategy for the sputtering Papa Bear? That may be an offer Russians can’t refuse.