Work on staffing Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s new cabinet is completed. According to reports this afternoon, Stepashin has announced that Aleksandr Zhukov, the head of the State Duma’s budget committee, will not join the cabinet as a first deputy prime minister, as Stepashin had originally hoped. Instead, Mikhail Zadornov–who served as finance minister under Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergei Kirienko and Yevgeny Primakov–has been named as one. Fourteen ministers from Primakov’s cabinet will stay in their posts (Russian agencies, May 25). Presidential spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin said today that the make-up of the new cabinet was discussed and its structure approved by President Boris Yeltsin, Stepashin, Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin and Nikolai Aksenenko, Russia’s railways chief and a first deputy prime minister, during a meeting this morning in the Black Sea resort of Sochi (Russian agencies, May 25).
Russian media reported yesterday and today that Aksenenko, widely described as an ally of the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, flew down to Sochi on his own initiative yesterday and reportedly managed to meet one-on-one with Yeltsin before the later session. According to this version, Aksenenko was not originally among those invited to the meeting. The Kremlin today denied this. While it is likely that Yeltsin will accede to Stepashin’s wishes and sign off on a cabinet including two first deputy prime ministers–Aksenenko and Zadornov–Aksenenko reportedly convinced Yeltsin to give him control over Russia’s “natural monopolies–meaning Gazprom, Russian’s natural gas giant, United Energy Systems, its electricity grid, and Svyazinvest, the state telecommunications holding company. One report said that Aksenenko’s surprise appearance in Sochi has ruined his relations with Stepashin for good (Kommersant, Moskovsky komsomolets, May 25).
Various media continued to give different spins to the under-the-cover battle reportedly taking place for control over the new cabinet, allegedly pitting privatization architect Anatoly Chubais and his allies against Berezovsky’s and his, who include members of the Kremlin inner circle. Unnamed government sources were quoted as saying that both the Kremlin and Stepashin are not simply heeding the wishes of Berezovsky. Other accounts, however, continued to insist that Berezovsky is winning the battle. Reports this week suggest that Berezovsky intends to purge the government and state of Chubais’ allies, including Andrei Shapovalyants, minister of economics, and Dmitri Vasiliev, head of the Federal Securities Commission, one of Chubais’ longtime allies. Berezovsky reportedly will also attempt to replace Viktor Gerashchenko, head of Russia’s Central Bank. Speculations also indicate that once the government is staffed with figures loyal to the presidential “family,” Yeltsin may decide to get rid of Berezovsky himself, because of his bad reputation both among the Russian masses and the elite (Izvestia, Kommersant, Vlast, May 25).
Zadornov’s appointment as first deputy prime minister, however, would appear to be a victory for neither Chubais nor Berezovsky. Zadornov, a former member of Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, is seen as being independent of the major warring Moscow political clans. With his appointment, Yeltsin may be wanting to find a way to put a check on the ambitions of both Chubais and Berezovsky.
MOSCOW GROWS IMPATIENT FOR KOSOVO BREAKTHROUGH.