Russia’s acting prime minister Sergei Kirienko is proceeding with assembling a government for President Boris Yeltsin’s approval. He has two weeks in which to do so. It is becoming increasingly clear that, though Yeltsin sacked the government as a whole, many if not most of the outgoing ministers can expect to retain their jobs. This certainly applies to Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, both of whom were warmly praised by Yeltsin yesterday (see following story). It also seems true of Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov is much in evidence as Kirienko’s right-hand man in the every day running of the government. The only ministers who seem definitely to have lost their jobs are those whom Yeltsin dismissed personally by decree: former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, First Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais (whose office Kirienko has taken over) and Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, who evacuated his office without a word. It appears, in other words, as if Yeltsin may have used the dramatic dismissal of the government both as a way of showing that he was still in charge and as a smokescreen behind which to get rid of Chernomyrdin (Europe’s longest-serving head of government save Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl).
Conspiracy theories abound. Media tycoon Boris Berezovsky added to them yesterday by giving a series of rambling interviews in which he claimed to have been the guiding spirit behind the replacements. (Financial Times, March 25) Berezovsky is indeed close to the Yeltsin family, especially Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko. He may well have played some role, though the rationale for Chernomyrdin’s replacement that Berezovsky put forward yesterday is one that others have also voiced in recent months. Berezovsky said he had advised Yeltsin that, with only two years before the presidential election, the pro-capitalist camp had no candidate capable of winning a popular election. Berezovsky described Chernomyrdin, Nemtsov and reform economist Grigory Yavlinsky as unelectable. This meant that the election would be won by a candidate — Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov or maverick General Aleksandr Lebed — incapable, in Berezovsky’s view, of managing the economy. It was, in other words, vital for Yeltsin to clear the decks and to begin grooming a successor able not only to run the capitalist economy but also to win a popular election.
Strong rumors are afloat that Kirienko, who moved to Moscow from Nizhny Novgorod only a year ago, will bring some provincial governors into the new cabinet. Yegor Stroev from Orel, Mikhail Prusak from Novgorod, Konstantin Titov from Samara and his rival Dmitry Ayatskov from Saratov are all names to watch.
Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers Get Vote of Confidence.