‘s answer? Keep firing ministers until things get better. "If the government is unable to meet [our] strategic goals, we’ll have a new government." This from a president who has had, for example, four ministers of finance in three years.

Shuffling the cabinet was the clearest prescription for change in the president’s State of the Nation address to parliament, delivered February 17. The thirty-minute speech, apparently kept short out of concern for the president’s health, was said to have been the product of months of struggle among competing teams of drafters. In the end, it could have been written by computer. The president was for economic growth (the hard work is done, he said, "the conditions for growth have been created"). He was for "new strategies" that sounded like old promises: pay the government’s debts, improve the investment climate, reform the civil service.

Yeltsin did insist that the government cut its spending. He followed his speech with 12 proposed amendments to the federal budget, asking parliament to strike out $4.6 billion in additional spending that his representatives had agreed to a month ago.