Russia has had no real government at least since President Boris Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin without explanation six months ago. The country seems to have no real government now. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is a member of the Communist Party and an old-school apparatchik who flourished in the Byzantine bureaucratic politics of the Soviet system. His economic skills are neither known nor thus far visible.
With Shokhin’s resignation the make-up of Primakov’s economic team is easier to discern. It gives no cause for optimism. The top figures, First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov and Central Bank President Viktor Gerashchenko, come like Primakov from the Gorbachev era. With the help of academic economists (Dmitri Lvov, Leonid Abalkin) they have put together a mishmash of theories and models that mixes Stalinist autarchy with Swedish social planning and Brazilian inflation-indexation. There is essentially no prospect that this bizarre policy cocktail will revive an economy with a standard of living below that of 1910. And if the economy fails to recover, the scant support that Primakov enjoys will disappear. This government has neither vision nor coherence nor time.
The Primakov government exists on the sufferance of the communists and their allies in the Duma. With Boris Yeltsin a rapidly declining political factor and public dissatisfaction high and rising, the communists have been able to force the government into constitutional compromises that shift power from the executive to the legislature, where they are dominant. At the same time they are–at least for now–actively promoting civil unrest, piggy-backing on labor’s demands for back wages to call for demonstrations against the president. With a Leninist “things must get worse before they get better” attitude, the Communists seem to be working toward a level of popular misery and despair that will propel them to power. Their opportunity may come in parliamentary elections at the end of next year, if not before.