Boris Yeltsin, so the conventional wisdom goes, is an impulsive Slavic peasant whose motives are as inscrutable as the enigma that is Russia. Some, probably most, observers also think Yeltsin is crazy. Not crazy like the holy fools of old Russia or the smug suits who make NATO policy. No, Yeltsin is simply considered senile or losing his mind to alcoholic dementia. Neither view is quite right, as the unexpected and shocking—to the neatly pressed pretty boys and girls of NATO and CNN—dash of Russian troops into Kosovo in June demonstrated. The Russian blitzkrieg short-circuited the talks on Russia’s projected “role” in Kosovo by forcing the issue: Russia would take part in the “peacekeeping” mission on her own terms, remaining —de facto if not de jure—outside the NATO command structure.

CNN, the wire service of the New World Order, was apoplectic, and the “Iron Lady” of the State Department was so mad she was quaking in her combat boots. The West had expected Russia to play along: Merall, that w as part of the deal. Viktor Chernomyrdin, the stalking horse of oligarch-in-chief Boris Berezovsky, had supposedly boosted his chances of becoming Boris I’s anointed successor by pressuring Milosevic to cave in and allow NATO to occupy Kosovo, which made Chernomyrdin’s pal Al Gore happy. In return, the allegedly non-political IMF would cough up more money to the Kremlin kleptocracy, buying it time to calculate how to hang on to power after Yeltsin’s departure in 2000. They should have known better.

Russian media boasted that the move into Kosovo had saved the nation’s collective face, preserved Russia as a great power, and shown the West that the Balkans lie within Moscow’s sphere of influence. NATO could just forget becoming policeman—or mugger—of the world. What remained unclear, however, was just who gave the order for the 200 Russian airborne troops to move into Kosovo. Both Chernomyrdin and the Foreign Ministry had clearly been out of the loop on this one. Did the generals make the decision on their own? Or was one pickled lobe of Yeltsin’s brain—the one that translates his uncommonly strong will to power into the intrigues he is justly known for—still working? A few observers claimed (correctly, in my view) that the fading “Yeltsin was still functioning, albeit for brief periods, and will be dragged kicking and screaming—if not in a body bag—from the Kremlin. Boris I does not intend for anybody, especially Chernomyrdin, Berezovsky, Gore, and “friend Bill,” to forget just who is the boss in Russia and grandmaster of the post-Cold War Great Cyanic deal or no deal.

Sergei Kurginyan, a nutty theater director and sometime political strategist for Gorbachev, the “patriotic” anti-Yeltsin coalition, and Berezovsky, had warned against counting Yeltsin out of the game. In a rambling, semi-coherent, and extremely Russian essay (he is a Russified Armenian) published in the newspaper Slovo in May, Kurginyan slammed the “myth” of Yeltsin’s total incapacity and predicted that the president still had a few surprises in store for both the West and the “family,” the parasitic collection of courtiers, oligarchs, and relatives who make up what Russian journalists call the “collective Yeltsin.” Yeltsin, wrote Kurginyan, is a self-absorbed “political animal” who operates in the postmodern realm beyond good and evil. “With unerring reactions with respect to his own interests, absolutely blinkered with respect to anything else” and a “ferocity” in battle that his opponents cannot match, the postmodern “political animal” does not need to work ” 18 hours a day” but only a few hours a week to read the tea leaves and plot his next moe.

The model for understanding Yeltsin and Kremlin politics is not —as Yeltsin would like tire West to believe—Konrad Adenauer and post-war Germany, but Russia in the period bridging the end of the Great Patriotic War and the rise of Khruschev. Then, an aging and ailing “political animal” clung to power until his death, leaving his country with no apparent successor, tense relations with the West, and in a state of demographic, economic, and social disaster. Hatching plots until the end, his hapless victims seldom knew what hit them. Trusting nobody, the political animal’s will to power remained his only companion, the only voice his fading mind could still hear.