President Boris Yeltsin opened a much-hyped meeting of the full Russian government this morning with a demand to know "who is guilty" for the country’s economic problems. He called on cabinet members for an account of their stewardship and warned in a dramatic flourish that three ministers might lose their jobs at the end of the meeting. His words were met by nervous laughter from ministers attending the meeting, which was televised live.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was upbeat when he began his speech. He said the economy made a breakthrough in 1997, with growth reported in half of Russia’s eighty-nine regions, compared with only ten regions in 1996. Gross domestic product was up 1.3 percent in January this year over the same period last year. To maintain this growth, Chernomyrdin said, big spending cuts are essential. He said there is a $7.5 billion hole in this year’s budget that can be filled only by austerity measures and by improving tax collection. If this is done, the prime minister predicted, the economy could be growing by 5 percent annually by the beginning of the next century. (BBC, February 26)
The BBC reports that Yeltsin did not look particularly well at this morning’s meeting; his voice was weak and he coughed frequently. The TV cameras tried not to show his coughs, but Yeltsin did not return to the meeting after the first break was taken. His staff said he had other important matters to attend to. (BBC, February 26)
Confusion Regarding Moscow’s Missile Defenses.