Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 57

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky yesterday described the thirty-five-year-old Sergei Kirienko as "the most likely, strong and possible candidate" for prime minister in the new Russian government. (ORT, March 23) President Boris Yeltsin yesterday named Kirienko acting prime minister and gave him two weeks (until Yeltsin’s departure on a state visit to Japan on April 11) to put together a new government. Kirienko is also to manage the country during this period during which Russia is officially without a government.

Yastrzhembsky predicted that the majority of the members of the outgoing government will keep their posts. Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov confidently predicted that he would remain in his current position. Yeltsin yesterday dismissed First Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais and Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov by special decree, but consensus in Moscow held that the outgoing heads of the other security services will be reappointed. Unlike Chubais, First Deputy Premier Boris Nemtsov was not specifically dismissed yesterday. Nemtsov and Kirienko are old associates. Kirienko indicated yesterday that he would work closely with Nemtsov in the next several weeks. Kirienko told a press conference that his main task was to guarantee the current operation of the government. He identified the buildup of wage and pensions areas and the fall in world oil prices as particularly urgent problems requiring government attention, and said he had tasked Nemtsov with overseeing the government’s policy on the oil issue. (Itar-Tass, March 23)

The formation of the new government provides an opportunity for the cabinet restructuring about which Yeltsin spoke in his state-of-the-nation address earlier this year. (See Monitor, February 24) It seems quite likely that the new government will depart from the present situation, in which the cabinet includes two first deputy premiers and eight deputy premiers. Instead, the cabinet is likely to be streamlined to eliminate overlap and give each minister responsibility for a single area.

Why the president made yesterday’s surprise move remains a mystery. Anatoly Chubais, who last week spoke of the need for a "new spring reform offensive," suggested that Yeltsin does indeed, as he said, want give new impulse to economic reform. (See Monitor, February 16-20) Others speculated that the move was the first step made in Yeltsin’s campaign for a third term as president. Others said that whoever Yeltsin appoints as prime minister will be his designated presidential successor. The only point of consensus was that Yeltsin had shown, once again, that he and he alone calls the Kremlin shots. "In Russia, power belongs to the Tsar and it comes from God," political commentator Igor Bunin told NTV last night. That, at any rate, is what Yeltsin wants everyone to believe.

The Government Reshuffle: Little Impact on Foreign Policy.