Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 141

There was confusion in Moscow last night as Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko said that President Boris Yeltsin had appointed a Communist, Yuri Maslyukov, to the vacant post of minister of industry and trade. Meanwhile, Maslyukov told journalists that that no one had officially informed him of the offer. (Russian agencies, July 22)

The appointment has been rumored for some time. Maslyukov was the last chairman of USSR Gosplan (the Soviet-era State Planning Committee). Now aged sixty-one, he is a member of the State Duma, where he chairs the Economic Policy Committee. He drafted the economic sections of Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov’s program for the 1996 presidential election, and Zyuganov has been campaigning for him to be included in the government for two years. Maslyukov is on the party’s moderate wing; in the spring, he broke ranks with the party leadership to vote for Kirienko’s appointment as prime minister.

The ministry Maslyukov would head is a new one, set up during the government reshuffle in the spring and assigned a number of functions that previously belonged to the Economics Ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade and the Ministry for CIS Affairs. It has overall responsibility for both trade and industrial policy, including the defense sector, with which Maslyukov has Soviet-era connections. Under Maslyukov’s supervision, Russian trade policy would be likely to become increasingly protectionist.

The offer may have come with strings: The government is trying to persuade the Duma to convene an extraordinary session on August 16 or 17 and sanction the government’s request for additional authority. The government is asking to be given sweeping powers for one year to decide how taxes will be paid, how extra-budgetary funds will be raised, and how these funds will be spent. (Vremya MN, July 21) The government says it needs these powers to dig Russia out of its financial crisis but, until now, the Duma has seemed highly unlikely to agree. The government may be hoping that, with Maslyukov in a senior cabinet post, the Communist-dominated legislature may change its mind.

Government changes are not expected to stop there. Insiders were quoted yesterday as saying that the number of deputy prime ministers (presently three) may be increased and their duties redistributed. There are persistent rumors that some regional governors will be invited to join the government. Strong-minded governors do not generally find this attractive, however. Several have already rejected invitations. They include Novgorod’s Mikhail Prusak, Samara’s Konstantin Titov and–reportedly–Primorsky Krai’s Yevgeny Nazdratenko. Independently-minded governors see the offer of a cabinet post for what it often is: a ruse to clip their wings by removing them from their regional power-bases. (Vremya MN, July 20)