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INSIDE RUSSIA: Russia Awaits New Ruler Of Oligarchs

Monday morning, it finally became clear who will not become Russia's president in the year 2000. It will not be Vladimir Putin. He will not become president simply because prime ministers are sacked in Russia these days when they are just ripening. Besides, it's impossible to stay for a year as an heir apparent to a sultan who is fanatically in love with his power and has only a vague idea of what is happening in reality.

The astonishing fact that President Boris Yeltsin seriously considers himself capable of appointing his successor shows how little the president understands the political reality. Any nomination from him would inevitably cause a serious allergic reaction in the voters. The only thing worse for Putin would be an endorsement from a Russian lesbian association.

The immediate reason for what happened is clear. "The family" was wounded in the heart by the year's biggest financial deal. I mean the sale of a large portfolio of votes, which is also known as the All Russia governors' bloc, to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov instead of to the Kremlin. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin did not just fail to prevent the deal, as he had promised, but took part in it on the part of Moscow's mayor.

The loss of this political investment auction was perceived as a personal tragedy in the Kremlin. It turned out that despite near-total control of budgetary and nonbudgetary cash flows by "the family's" appointees, their resources were still insufficient to buy not just a succession, but elementary sec urity after the elections. The consequence: The president's decision, which, although not exceeding his powers, is far beyond common sense.

This decision evidently reflects an axiom more fundamental than the inevitable end of "the family's" rule. Namely, it presages the sunset of the oligarchical system.

There are two stable types of economies: the market system, under which the authorities provide for fair rules of the game for all; and a dictatorship, under which governing the country in fact equals owning it. The Russian oligarchical economy has long stayed between the two regimes. On one hand, power was a high-profit financial instrument, as under dictatorship. On the other hand, there was competition among the groups, which used presidential decrees as a means of personal gain, as under a market system. As the Kremlin was turning into the only source of wealth and the only means of its preservation, this competition became ever uglier.

Secret bribes swiftly transformed into secret intrigues, secret intrigues into public kompromat, or compromising material, scandals into media wars. The greater the authorities' immunity to scandals, the dirtier they became. The dirtier the scandals - the greater the mistrust toward the government.

Such a regime cannot be stable: Thermidor ends either with Brumaire, or with a disintegration of the country. Due to the personal characteristics of Yeltsin, who is too power-lusty for a democrat and too weak for an autocrat, Russia has become a dictatorship without a dictator. So, whoever wins in the elections, the empty throne in the heart of the regime will be waiting for a victor.

Russia does not elect a president. Russia elects a super-oligarch, who will first of all devour his forefathers. And the forefathers are panicking.

Yulia Latynina is a staff writer for Segodnya.

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