Addressing a meeting of the government yesterday, Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said he would carry out a thorough reorganization of the government’s "structure and membership." (Itar-Tass, March 7) Chernomyrdin was speaking after Boris Yeltsin’s address to parliament, in which the Russian president said he would make cabinet changes "over the next few days." Despite a dearth of reliable information, the consensus among the best informed newspapers is that Anatoly Chubais will soon return to the government as first deputy prime minister with a wide-ranging remit to push through the next stage of economic liberalization, and that the government is likely to be reorganized to eliminate some 20 sectoral ministries. (Segodnya, March 5; Izvestia, Kommersant-daily, March 6) Plans for such a restructuring were discussed last summer but had to be abandoned partly because of bureaucratic opposition and partly because of Yeltsin’s illness. That the plan is on the table again was clear from Chernomyrdin’s statement yesterday that "It is time to end the government’s division into economic and sectoral blocks." He said the aim was to stop inner-cabinet feuding and to put an end to "lobbying" by sectoral ministries.
It is also expected that the number of first deputy prime ministers will be cut from the present 12 to 6 or 7, with Chubais occupying a dominant position as economic tsar that will give him, in some respects, more influence even than Chernomyrdin. According to deputy Duma speaker Aleksandr Shokhin, Chubais wants a "coalition government." This means portfolios not for the Communist party but for the various democratic parties, including Yabloko. Grigory Yavlinsky confirmed yesterday that feelers have been put out to some Yabloko members, but said that he himself would not be joining the cabinet. (Reuters, March 7)
One factor delaying the proposed changes is the difficulty of finding someone strong enough to replace Chubais as Yeltsin’s chief-of-staff. Yeltsin himself is said to have resisted Chubais’s move, saying "I need this man myself." Possible replacements being mentioned include Boris Nemtsov, the 37-year-old whiz kid governor of Nizhny Novgorod oblast. (Moskovsky komsomolets, March 5)
Yeltsin’s Address to Parliament: Familiar Themes on Foreign and Security Policy.