Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 41

Speculation continues in the Russian media over President Boris Yeltsin’s threat to reshuffle the cabinet. Most of today’s newspapers dismiss the report carried by Izvestia yesterday, according to which Yeltsin has decided to replace Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin with Anatoly Chubais or Yegor Gaidar. (Izvestia, February 26) But the press does agree that Gaidar’s star is in the ascendant. The think-tank he heads has been entrusted with drafting Yeltsin’s March 6 address to parliament, and last weekend Gaidar launched an outspoken attack on the Chernomyrdin government, accusing it of making "excessive" promises, enacting an unrealistic budget, and lacking the will and the skill to manage further economic reforms. (Interfax, February 23) Today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta predicts that Chernomyrdin will retain the premiership but that Yeltsin will "reinforce" the government by re-appointing Chubais to the post of first deputy premier and assigning Gaidar a "covert" role as adviser on economic reforms. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 27)

Kommersant-daily also thinks Chernomyrdin will keep his post, not because Yeltsin is pleased with his performance but because his ouster would upset the balance of power in the cabinet. (Kommersant-daily, February 26) There will be a government reshuffle, the newspaper says, because Yeltsin needs to make some "ritual sacrifices" to prove that he is back in control, but only a few minor government officials will be sacrificed. Kommersant-daily mentions as likely victims Labor Minister Gennady Melikyan and State Pension Fund head Vasily Barchuk. But deputy prime ministers are safe since they owe their government posts to the powerful banking and industrial interests which they represent. "No one, not even the president, would venture to target someone who wields real political and financial power and whose resignation would provoke the opposition of influential financial-industrial groups," the newspaper speculated. The only exception, in Kommersant-daily’s opinion, is first deputy premier for social issues Viktor Ilyushin, "the only official no-one would miss." It may therefore be significant that Ilyushin yesterday canceled a planned trip to Japan, saying urgent domestic issues required him to remain in Moscow.

The analysis underlines the fact that Russia’s failure to develop a functioning party system means that the government continues to show strong oligarchical tendencies. Russia’s fast progress toward a market economy notwithstanding, the country’s political system often remains eerily reminiscent of the old Soviet system.

The Kremlin Blasts Russia’s Defense Minister.