It may be that the president has been persuaded not to rock the boat, or at least not to throw the crew overboard, before the Duma debates the budget on March 4. The government and the legislature have been fighting over the budget since last fall. In November, the government caved in to the free-spending Duma and agreed to boost outlays by $4.6 billion. The revised budget sailed through preliminary votes in the Duma and was set for final passage when the government, reacting to soaring interest rates, falling stock prices, and pressure from the International Monetary Fund, reneged and took the $4.6 billion out again. Angry Duma deputies voted the budget down and recessed.

The austerity camp should be in no hurry to resolve the impasse. With no budget in place, spending is restricted to last year’s levels, which in ruble terms is over 10% below the government’s latest budget proposal.

President Yeltsin in his heart may side with the Duma. His has attacked his own cabinet for failing to pay overdue wages and pensions and missing his target of 2% growth. In recent months he has spoken out against "materialism" and called for a return to "Russian values." He seemed prepared to consider a proposal by Duma president