Vladimir Shumeiko, speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament and long-time ally of President Boris Yeltsin, presided December 21 over the constituent conference of a new political movement, "Russian Reforms — A New Course." Shumeiko said the movement will back Yeltsin in the June 1996 presidential elections "provided the president takes account of the movement’s proposals on adjusting the course of reforms." The movement will hold another conference within a month to approve proposals that will be submitted to the president. Shumeiko added that the proposals might be put to a nationwide referendum. (6)
Regional leaders are well represented among the new movement’s founders. According to Shumeiko, the "Russian Reforms" aims to set economic reform on "a new course by passing the initiative to the regions and giving them more control over their own economic affairs." Crucial to its platform is Shumeiko’s call for protecting domestic industry and boosting production by relaxing the austerity policies of the present government. (7) The Russian media met the movement’s creation with skepticism. Noting that "Russian Reforms" likens itself to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Irina Savvateeva of Izvestiya said the situation in Russia bears no relation whatsoever to that in the USA in the 1930s. (8)
Most observers see the movement’s principal goals as (a) providing Shumeiko with a job once the incumbent Federation Council is dissolved, and (b) asserting the agenda of regional elites. The latter not only want to get Moscow off their backs, but to discourage foreign and other outside investment that threatens their control over local industry. Also high on the movement’s agenda is restructuring the Russian Federation by reorganizing it into large economic units. Such a reorganization would give large regions more control over smaller ones, many of which are rich in natural resources. Shumeiko said the movement has branches in 71 of Russia’s 89 republics and regions and plans to establish itself in Ukraine.
The mystery is to what extent Yeltsin supports the aims of the new movement, whose aims are directly counter to the anti-inflationary policies of the present government. Although Yeltsin declared the movement a mistake when its creation was announced in late November, he gave yesterday’s conference his blessing by dispatching the head of his presidential administration to convey his greetings. In order to placate the public’s clearly expressed disgust with government policies, the Yeltsin leadership may soon make a left-hand turn. Yeltsin’s support for Shumeiko’s movement could be one such move. Other indications include the hints made by Chernomyrdin in his December 18 address to the Federation Council that the government in 1996 would provide increased support to high-tech industries, increase import duties on some goods, and pay compensation to pensioners whose savings have been eroded by inflation. Yet another indication was a statement earlier this week by First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets that the government recognizes that "serious mistakes" were made in the privatization process. (9)
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