Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 159

President Bill Clinton is in Moscow and has begun talks with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. (BBC, September 1) No end is in sight to Russia’s economic turmoil, which turned yesterday into full-scale political crisis when the opposition-dominated parliament voted against Yeltsin’s nominee Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister.

The Duma subjected Chernomyrdin to an hour of hostile questioning before rejecting his candidacy with the lowest level of support (94 in favor, 253 against) given to any prime ministerial nominee in post-Soviet Russia’s seven-year history. (RTR, ORT, NTV, August 31) Yeltsin immediately reconfirmed his support for Chernomyrdin’s candidacy. He is not expected to back down. In the words of media magnate Boris Berezovsky, seen as a strong influence on Yeltsin and his family, Yeltsin has “made a decision concerning Chernomyrdin’s candidacy, and I know of no occasion when he has changed his mind on a matter of this sort.” (Itar-Tass, August 31) Berezovsky did, however, dismiss speculation over the possibility of social unrest. “All such talk is invented by those who want to make a bad situation worse,” he said last week. (Pravda, August 28) The Duma is expected to reject Chernomyrdin again next Monday, when it is due to vote on his candidacy for a second time.

Communist leaders made it clear yesterday that they are hoping to use the crisis to wring further concessions from the Kremlin. Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev demanded that Yeltsin undertake to appoint a cabinet “reflecting the composition of the Duma,” that is, made up predominantly of Communists. Radical Communist Viktor Ilyukhin was more explicit: He said the Duma would both approve Chernomyrdin as prime minister and sign the power-sharing agreement laboriously hammered out by Chernomyrdin and Duma leaders last weekend, but only if Yeltsin added a promise to resign and Chernomyrdin undertook to assign ten cabinet posts, including that of interior minister, to Communist candidates. As Berezovsky predicted, Yeltsin made it clear yesterday that he has no intention of resigning and will not back down over Chernomyrdin’s candidacy. (Ekho Moskvy, August 31)

Weakened though he is, Yeltsin holds several cards in this battle of wills. If the Duma rejects the president’s nominee three times, the constitution empowers the president to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. Galina Starovoitova, leader of Democratic Russia, told the BBC yesterday that she expects Yeltsin to pursue Chernomyrdin’s candidacy to the bitter end, just as he did his nomination of Sergei Kirienko in the spring. Starovoitova predicted that, if Chernomyrdin is rejected three times, Yeltsin will dissolve parliament and declare a state of national emergency and presidential rule. This would allow Yeltsin to rule by decree for three months with Chernomyrdin as acting premier. (BBC, August 31) Chernomyrdin said yesterday that, despite his defeat, he would press ahead with assembling an acting cabinet team and that the new government would start work today. “Russia cannot do without a government,” he said. (ORT, Reuter, August 31) Reformers are pinning their hopes on former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, the aggressive reformer appointed by Chernomyrdin on August 30 to oversee economic strategy and represent Russia to the IMF. They are also encouraged by news that Domingo Cavallo, architect of Argentina’s successful currency board system, which pegs the peso at par to the dollar, would arrive shortly in Moscow to advise the government on ways of stabilizing the embattled ruble.

Starovoitova said that Duma has its own list of prime ministerial candidates. It includes Industry Minister Yuri Maslyukov (the last head of USSR Gosplan); Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov; and the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Yegor Stroyev, all seen as relatively moderate left-wing candidates. (BBC, August 31)