Russian President Boris Yeltsin set off a fresh flurry of speculation yesterday when he warned that ministers may be sacked when he holds his long-awaited meeting February 26 with the government. At the meeting, which had to be postponed several times last year because of Yeltsin’s sickness, ministers are due to give an account of their stewardship. Yesterday, Yeltsin promised that the tone at the session will be "demanding" and "certain people will be held to account." Decisions will be taken "straightaway," he added. (Itar-Tass, February 23)
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin’s staunchest ally for the past five years, seems sure to retain his post. Also hanging on by their teeth are the "young reformers," Anatoly Chubais, Boris Nemtsov and Oleg Sysuev, despite the controversy their policies provoke and though Yeltsin has already weakened their positions by sacking most of their cabinet allies. Last month, Yeltsin promised to keep Nemtsov and Chubais in power until the year 2000 (the duration of his present term). The consensus in Moscow is that Yeltsin will keep the "young reformers" not because he likes them but because he knows they are the only members of the government capable of executing a balanced budget and reassuring international financiers. Yeltsin told journalists yesterday that he was optimistic that the Duma will soon see reason and approve the 1998 federal budget. "I want to sign a realistic budget. This is what I insist on," he said.
In his state-of-the-nation speech last week, Yeltsin hinted at a reform of the government that would eliminate the rank of first deputy prime minister and make ministers directly responsible to the prime minister instead of to an intermediary. While this might make long-term sense, its short-term impact would be to strip Chubais and Nemtsov of their power to oversee other cabinet members. To some extent, this has already happened with Chernomyrdin’s mini-reshuffle earlier this year, when he assumed direct oversight of the finance ministry (from Chubais) and of energy (from Nemtsov). Former Yeltsin aide Georgy Satarov, however, who was one of the team that drafted Yeltsin’s speech, said later that the post of first deputy premier would be abolished "by the year 2000." (Russian agencies, February 17) It does not appear, therefore, that this reform will happen immediately.
Russian Oil Company Share Issue Revoked.