, the young First Deputy Prime Minister.
Yeltsin’s own health has been a matter of constant speculation since he dropped out of sight for most of six months in the last half of 1996, while his spokesmen told increasingly unbelievable lies about the "bad cold" that eventually was treated with quintuple bypass surgery. Last month, after behaving oddly during an official visit to Sweden, the president was hospitalized for a "viral infection" from which he is now said to have recovered. He should be back at work in the Kremlin today, January 19, but the pattern of furious activity alternating with utter lethargy is well established and likely to continue.
The country’s economic condition has a steadier chart but an equally uncertain prognosis. Russia officially reported 0.4% growth in 1997, the first positive number since 1989. The target for 1998 is "solid growth" in the range of 2%-4%, or so President Boris Yeltsin told Nemtsov. Of course that has been Yeltsin’s prediction for some time, but recently he has done little to bring it about.
On the contrary, the president’s mercurial performance has seen initiatives embraced and abandoned with little to show for them. When Yeltsin brought Boris Nemtsov to the Kremlin last March from Nizhny Novgorod, where he had been a popular and successful reformist governor, great changes were anticipated. Nemtsov promised to break the power of Russia’s great energy monopolies, introducing competition, phasing out subsidies, and enforcing tax collection. He promised to curb housing subsidies as well. That placed him squarely in opposition to most of Russia’s increasingly powerful elected governors, political beneficiaries of these federal mandates.
In late December, those governors, who sit in the Federation Council that forms the upper house of Russia’s parliament, censured Nemtsov, and the lower house or Duma asked Yeltsin to fire him. The president has not done so, but neither has he defended him. Nemtsov, whom public-opinion polls six months ago rated the most trusted politician in the country, has been left to twist in the wind while his popularity declines and his programs languish. If Russia disloyally fails to obey the president’s order to grow, Nemtsov would be an easy sacrifice. The ax could fall as early as next month, when the president outlines his economic program in a state-of-the-nation address, receives a proposal for a coalition government from Duma president and Communist Party member