Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 4 Issue: 10

Russia’s new government assumed final shape under the leadership of Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko. The key players in the restructured cabinet were three deputy premiers, two of whom were holdovers from the previous government. First among equals was Boris Nemtsov, who regained oversight of energy policy and the natural monopolies. Next was Oleg Sysuev, keeping responsibility for social policy. Third was new appointee Viktor Khristenko, charged with federal-regional relations.

Kirienko also announced a number of structural reforms. Federal ministers would be given more autonomy, he promised: they would be free from heavy-handed supervision by deputy premiers, and would, in the future, supervise the work of state committees even when these were not formally part of their own ministries. As part of his streamlining, Kirienko abolished the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and replaced it by a bumper Ministry of Industry and Trade, which also assumed some of the functions of the Economics Ministry.

Squabbling over who should head the new ministry delayed Kirienko’s efforts to put his cabinet together. The “Russia is Our Home” movement (ROH) wanted the job for its appointee, Aleksandr Shokhin, a Chernomyrdin ally. Clearly deterred by the political baggage Shokhin would bring with him, Kirienko finally appointed Russia’s chief trade negotiator, Georgy Gabuniya, as acting minister.

Shokhin was so annoyed that he told the press that ROH would no longer support the government. He did not use the word “opposition,” but that was what he implied, and an embarrassed Chernomyrdin was forced to issue a denial. ROH found itself facing another potential split when the governor of Saratov Oblast, Dmitri Ayatskov, announced that he was leaving to set up his own party. Observers predicted that Ayatskov would be followed by a stream of regional leaders who saw no sense in tying themselves to Chernomyrdin once he was no longer prime minister.

Others were also unhappy. Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko severed its ties with one of its stars, Oksana Dmitrieva, when she accepted the post of minister of labor in the new government. Yabloko condemned Dmitrieva’s decision to take the new job on the grounds that Kirienko’s government was virtually identical to that which it was replacing.

Another prickly problem was finding a job for former deputy premier Ivan Rybkin, a long-time Yeltsin-loyalist who had been promised a cabinet post but whose close links to media tycoon Boris Berezovsky threatened to make him a disruptive member of Kirienko’s team. Finally, Yeltsin named Rybkin as plenipotentiary representative to the CIS. Rybkin’s new post, in which he retained the rank of deputy premier but became directly responsible to the president, promised to make him a thorn in the flesh of Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. As part of his government reorganization, Kirienko had abolished the Ministry for Cooperation with the CIS and transferred most of its functions to the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry had no sooner gained control of CIS affairs, however, than it lost it to the Rybkin and his ally Berezovsky, who was appointed CIS executive secretary at the end of April.