After summary rejection of his candidate, Victor Chernomyrdin, by the lower house of the Russian Parliament, Yeltsin did not immediately resubmit Chernomyrdin's name, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Threlkeld.
Instead, Yeltsin and his close advisers were closeted at his retreat outside Moscow, presumably trying to figure out what or who is next. Yeltsin has only until next Monday to forward a candidate to parliament. If his nominee is rejected again, parliament will be dissolved and there'll be new elections, a prospect that scares everybody involved.
The opposition insists Chernomyrdin will be rejected if he's nominated a final time. Yeltsin's opponents are more partial to Yevgeny Primakov, a former KGB official who is now foreign minister and who's not especially friendly to America or the West.
But Primakov said he's not interested. And Moscow's populist and ambitious mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, said he, too, didn't want the job, although didn't sound quite as convincing.
A compromise candidate could resolve a deadlock between the president, and parliament that has paralyzed the political system even as the country's economy descends deeper into crisis.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov warned Wednesday that the Duma would begin immediate impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin if he nominated Chernomyrdin a third time. A vote to start impeachment proceedings blocks Yeltsin from dissolving the Duma.
"If Chernomyrdin is nominated again, we will immediately launch the impeachment motion," he told journalists.
But the Duma needs a two-thirds majority to begin impeachment, and government supporters predicted it could not be passed.
Yeltsin has one more chance to propose a candidate, either Chernomyrdin or someone else. If the Duma rejects the third choice, Yeltsin is required to disband the chamber and call new elections, unless an impeachment motion is passed.
Opposition and religious leaders warned Tuesday that unless a solution is found quickly, the political standoff could spark civil war.
Nationalist leader Alexander Lebed, a presidential aspirant, said Wednesday he was ready to take charge of the government, adding that Yeltsin should resign. "A paralysis of power is obvious now," he said.
The nation's top clergyman, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, even prayed publicly before Russia's holiest icon, Our Lady of Vladimir, seeking divine protection against "misfortunes, sorrows and internecine war."
Yeltsin's office has not named any other potential candidates for the prime minister's job.
Meanwhile, the economy continued its skid. The ruble, which bought about 16 cents last month, is now worth about 5 cents.
Prices hav been rising daily and shoppers are clearing out store shelves in anticipation of even higher inflation. Long lines also began forming at gas stations.
Apparently seeking to slow the deterioration, Chernomyrdin moved late Tuesday to put at least some of his economic program into motion.
He instructed tax police to start raids Thursday on firms suspected of gouging, ordered a swift cut in oil excise taxes, and directed the Central Bank to require exporters to sell half their hard currency proceeds for rubles.