. (Chubais has also lived this day before: he was fired as first deputy prime minister in January, 1996, before being re-appointed to the post in March, 1997.)

The signs of change began late last year, when President Yeltsin moved toward a budget compromise with moderate Communists in the Duma, the lower house of parliament. Those discussions suggested the president, who in the past had been quick to threaten to dissolve the Duma rather than allow it to obstruct his plans, was no longer willing to use his political capital to support the austerity program that Chubais and Nemtsov favored. In January, Chubais and Nemtsov lost their posts as ministers of finance and energy. And last week a Moscow paper, citing a leaked draft, said President Yeltsin plans to use his upcoming state-of-the-nation address to scold Chubais for problems in tax collection and Nemtsov for failures in housing policy.

In the past few weeks, the president has also enhanced the prestige of the "Big Four," an informal meeting of the president, the prime minister, and the presidents of the Duma and Federation Council, the parliament’s upper house. Yeltsin chaired last week’s Big Four meeting, which heard Duma president