Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 98

The conflicting signals over the appointment of Aleksandr Zhukov as first deputy prime minister of economics would appear to be part of an under-the-carpet power struggle going on in Yeltsin’s inner circle over who will control the cabinet. According to Moscow’s ever-buzzing political rumor mill, Stepashin is in hot water with the Kremlin administration and, presumably, the president (or, at any rate, “the collective Yeltsin,” as Russian observers have started calling the Kremlin inner circle), for not having first cleared his decision to appoint Zhukov. Stepashin undoubtedly sees in Zhukov, an economist who studied for a time at the Harvard Business School, as a politically “neutral” figure who could help get tax and other revenue-enhancing legislation demanded by the International Monetary Fund passed in the Duma.

Yet Nikolai Aksenenko, the railroads minister who was appointed a first deputy prime minister last week following Yevgeny Primakov’s dismissal, declared publicly that he would be largely in charge of the bulk of the government’s economic policy. Aksenenko is rumored to be close to the tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, and thus is disliked in the Duma. Indeed, Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), said today that he was worried about rumors that there would be only one first deputy prime minister in charge of economic policy, and that Aksenenko would fill the post. “If these reports are confirmed, Aksenenko will possess enormous power, which is giving rise to many questions among the deputies,” he told the media (Russian agencies, May 20).

A Russian daily reported today that the Kremlin is ready to put Yeltsin’s chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin–who, like Zhukov, is an economist–in the economics tsar post. Voloshin is also viewed as a Berezovsky man, while Zhukov is considered closer to such figures as United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais and former Finance Minister Boris Federov. The paper also reported that in the likely case that Berezovsky wins the battle to control the new cabinet, it increases the likelihood that the president will force the Duma to take a vote of confidence in the government (Kommersant, May 20). Another newspaper noted that if the Duma, out of a self-preservation instinct, votes confidence in the government, Yeltsin can simply fire the cabinet and put up a candidate to replace Stepashin who the Duma will find totally unacceptable (Moskovsky Komsomolets, May 20). If the Duma rejects this candidate, Yeltsin can then dissolve the Duma and call new elections. If Berezovsky indeed is getting the upper hand, such a scenario is more likely, given that he has repeatedly called for the KPRF, the largest single faction in the Duma, to be banned.

A test of Berezovsky’s strength will come with Stepashin’s naming of the new interior minister, the post Stepashin held prior to becoming prime minister. According to various reports, Vladimir Rushailo, a deputy interior minister who is said to be a Berezovsky protege, is the front runner. Chubais, meanwhile, is unlikely to be named the president’s emissary to the international lending institutions, a post he held a year ago and reportedly wants to regain. Aleksandr Livshits, formerly finance minister and Yeltsin’s economics adviser, and Pyotr Aven, Alfa Bank founder and a former foreign trade minister, are reportedly being considered for the post. According to a report today, Aven is the front runner (Russian agencies, May 20).