Boris Yeltsin has been at it again, sacking Russian Premier Yevgeni Primakov and his entire cabinet, pushing the country to the edge of the political abyss. The phlegmatic Primakov, who resembles Jabba the Hut of Star Wars fame, had opened an investigation into the machinations of the “oligarchs,” the gangsters-cum-businessmen who have dominated Russia in the Yeltsin era. The trail led back to the Kremlin and Yeltsin’s “family,” which includes his daughter and unofficial chief of staff, Tatyana Dyachenko, various courtiers, and the “gray cardinal” of the Kremlin—”family” advisor Boris Abramovich Berezovsky (known as “BAB”). Russian investigators believe that IMF money was funneled bv a Swiss-based firm, MABATEX, into offshore bank accounts controlled by the “family,” Primakov had to go.

It seems that Primakov never quite understood what Yeltsin wanted him to do: protect the interests of the “family,” rig the December parliamentary elections in order to produce a Duma less inclined to put “the guardian of democratic reforms” on trial after his term ends in 2000, and arrange a suitable successor. Meanwhile, an order for BAB’s arrest has been withdrawn, a move obviously orchestrated by Yeltsin. The Duma is up in arms and planning retaliation. In early May, the word on the street is that Yeltsin is preparing to dissolve the Duma and declare a state of emergency should the opposition- dominated lower house vote to impeach the “Father of Russian Democracy” on May 15. What will the cornered president do?

Yeltsin has moved quickly to take advantage of the Yugoslav conflict, occasionalK- blasting NATO and threatening intervention to reassure Russian patriots, but appointing the hapless ex-premier, close friend of the “family,” and protege of BAB, Viktor Chernomyrdin, as “special presidential envoy” to the West. Yeltsin has decided that Chernomyrdin can smooth things over with NATO, force Belgrade to back down, and team up with the ex-premier’s long-time pal, the equally wooden Al Gore, to preserve “world peace.” A well-connected acquaintance tells me that Yeltsin is hoping to use the Yugoslav crisis to position Chernomyrdin for come-what-may, either a “force solution” in the standoff with the Duma—in which Chernomyrdin would play the role of emergency premier—or possibly to succeed Boris I in 2000. A Russian-brokered deal that serves the West’s interests will help Core, who is running for the White House in 2000 and is too interested in his own dirty laundry to worry about the Kremlin’s. If Belgrade’s capitulation could be secured, the “non-political” IMF might decide that Russia needs another bridge loan after all, and Clinton might ignore any extra-constitutional moves that Yeltsin might make. After all, we must think of “world peace.”

The ides of May approach, and Yeltsin has dodged yet another bullet. The first democratically elected president of Russia has swung a deal with certain Duma members—to the tune of $30,000 a man—to take a vacation on May 15. Others—including the Larry Flynt of Russian polities, hustler-cum-“ultranationalist” Vladimir Zhirinovsks—may get themselves appointed to occupy the still warm seats of Primakov’s cabinet. Nearly 70 of the Duma’s 450 members are absent on May 15. Yeltsin survives impeachment by 15 votes. The shaken Duma has been bested by the master once again. Came, set, and match. Should the deputies get uppity again, well, the crisis in Yugoslavia, the expansion of NATO, and a recent spate of terrorist acts traced back to the rebel Chechen republic (where BAB has maintained ties to the most radical elements) might justify a state of emergency and the cancellation of the next elections. (Never mind that Yeltsin has been warned that such actions could precipitate a civil war.) So Yeltsin’s interests have been well served by the Kosovo crisis—as have Clinton’s and Core’s.

Some members of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” in both Russia and America have accused Wild Bill and Czar Boris of “wagging the dog,” taking advantage of foreign-policy crises to divert attention from corruption at home. Who could attack the Commander in Chief at a time like this? Who but a knee-jerk Clinton/Yeltsin-hater would be interested in Lippo Bank/MABATEX when we are facing World War III? Who but an obsessed right-winger would care about Clinton’s/Yeltsin’s old friendships Johnny Chung/BAB) when “world peace” is at stake? What kind of person would attack the President’s family (Hillary/Tatyana) because of “policy differences”? Few, however, ask the obvious question: What kind of maniac would risk a world war or the implosion of his own country to cover his political rear end?