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Friday, 17 September, 1999, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Analysis: Yeltsin 'obsessed' with succession
President Yeltsin
President Yeltsin wants someone who endorses vision of 'New Russia'
Mr Yeltsin has sacked four prime ministers in 18 months. But why, when he is so close to the end of his final term of office, does he feel compelled to change his head of government so often?

Mr Yeltsin is, Kremlin insiders suggest, almost become obsessed with the issue of who will succeed him.

He is terrified by the thought that someone who does not share his vision of the "New Russia" might come to power and undo all that he has done in the last eight years.

Russia crisis
The prime minister's job is the obvious launching pad for a successor. So he has tried one premier after another, and discarded them all for one or other reason - until now.

Vladimir Putin, it seems, is the man he is finally decided is best equipped to - as Mr Yeltsin sees it - defend democracy.

Mr Yeltsin has officially appointed him as his chosen candidate to succeed him as president. It is the first time Mr Yeltsin has gone this far with any of his prime ministers.

Many will find it ironic that the former security chief has been chosen for such a role.

Mr Putin, who graduated in law in 1975, served for 15 years until 1990 in the First Main Directorate of the KGB - the Soviet intelligence service.

Former PM Stepashin fires a rifle
Fired: Did Stepashin become too popular?
The president may have chosen Mr Putin precisely because of this background - perhaps only someone with the unique insight of a former spy could effectively control such an unruly country as Russia and win either respect or the grudging co-operation from disunited but highly critical opponents.

At the same time, many will question whether yet another switch at this late stage, and to such a politician with such a controversial background, will do anything at all for what's left of Mr Yeltsin's domestic credibility.

President Yeltsin came to power on a wave of optimism.

That optimism, and the patience of ordinary Russian people has been slowly worn away to the point where political crises have become nothing new.

From hero to villain

In the most infamous to date, in October 1993, President Boris Yeltsin chose a radical solution to settle his dispute with parliament:

The Russian military fire on the State Duma during the 1993 attempted coup
Attempted coup: Yeltsin saw it off in 1993
He called up tanks to shell the parliament building, blasting out his opponents.

On that occasion, Russia came the closest to serious civil conflict since the revolution of 1917.

Even though the president's supporters would say that there is method in his madness, ordinary Russians who experienced the financial collapse of August 1998 believe the country has neither firm leadership nor direction.

Although constitutionally President Yeltsin is the man in charge of the country, there have long been doubts over his health which have led many to conclude that he is running the country in name only.

Russian shoppers attempt to buy goods in a shop
Peronal misery: Economic crisis has hit hard
Earlier this year, advisors felt the need to quickly correct his radical pronouncements on the war in Yugoslavia and even went as far as to ask journalists not to report one particularly embarrassing pronouncement.

And when he sacked Yevgeny Primakov and his government in May, many observers concluded that Mr Yeltsin had finally lost touch with reality.

Tension mounted in the days following the sacking of Primakov when deputies in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, attempting to impeach Mr Yeltsin, a move which ended in humiliation for the Communists who control the legislature.

Ultimately, Mr Yeltsin has given the country little leadership since his July 1996 re-election and has only appeared to exercise his power by returning from illnesses of varying degrees of severity to sack ministers and officials.

These actions have paralysed Russia's body politic since anyone bold enough to make a decision in the President's absence knows that they may well pay for it with their job.

See also:

09 Aug 99 | Business
09 Aug 99 | Monitoring
09 Aug 99 | Europe
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