Russian president Boris Yeltsin is meeting today with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to discuss government policy in the wake of the strong showing by the Communist party in Russia’s parliamentary elections. There is strong speculation that a cabinet reshuffle will be announced. Final results are not yet in, but it is already clear that the communist gains represent a rejection by many sections of the population of the government’s policies. Yeltsin has repeatedly stated that he will not abandon market reform, but Sergei Filatov, head of the presidential administration, told journalists on December 18 that some softening of government policy was inevitable: "The poor should not be allowed to become even poorer," he said. (13)
Chernomyrdin told journalists that, while changes were possible in the government "as in any living organism," there would not be a major reshuffle. Nonetheless, speculation is strong that some important heads will roll. Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev is expected to resign, since he has won election to the Duma and will be constitutionally debarred, as a member of parliament, from holding ministerial rank. He was the longest-serving member of the Yeltsin team, having been Russian foreign minister since before the collapse of the USSR. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose Liberal Democratic party is currently in second place after the communists, has listed a number of cabinet members whose dismissal he hopes to see, starting with First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais and Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin. (14)
The position of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev is also rumored to be in jeopardy. But the economist Andrei Illarionov predicts that the communists and nationalists will pull their punches for the time being and seek to keep some of more visible economic reformers in the cabinet. "The opposition needs the government as a punching bag for use in next June’s presidential elections," Illarionov argues. (15)
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