Prague, Jan. 17 (RFE/RL) - Anatoly Chubais, architect
of Russia's economic reforms, has become the latest victim of Russian
President Boris Yeltsin's cabinet purge.
Chubais follows foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev and chief of staff
Sergei Filatov out of the Kremlin. The three men, until a week ago,
had formed a triumvirate of young 'Westernizers' who had shaped
policy in the Yeltsin administration from the very start. They were
the public face of Russian reform. And although their influence had
recently waned, Yeltsin's house-cleaning is a signal that he has
sensed the mood of the country. Barring further health troubles,
Yeltsin is now almost sure to run for a second presidential term and
the ditching of any liberal advisers is the first step in his
Presidential aide Aleksandr Livshits said Yeltsin blamed Chubais for
the government's failure to pay wages and pensions on time. But
Livshits said Chubais' departure does not mean that Russia is
abandoning the tight monetary policies that have brought monthly
inflation down from 18 percent a year ago to just over three percent
in December 1995.
Nevertheless, Western observers are wary. Chubais devised and
implemented Russia's privatization program - which began in 1992.
Last month, he boasted that the largest sell-off of state property in
history had led to "a privatized economy and financial stability
which will bring real investment into the Russian economy." Chubais'
efforts won him friends at the International Monetary Fund and
brought Russia billions of dollars in credits from the
West. Negotiations on a further 9 billion dollar loan from the
IMF are continuing - but with Chubais' resignation, those talks could
now be in jeopardy.
Privatization was the main target of nationalist and Communist
opposition to Yeltsin during December's parliamentary elections.
Those groups say Chubais' brainchild has been a corrupt giveaway
designed to fill the pockets of well-placed banks and certain
investors -- while the average Russian is left with high prices and
few social guarantees.
Communist leader and presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov has
said that Yeltsin's economic policies have led Russia to "overall
poverty and shame."
Now that the man publicly identified with that policy is gone,
Yeltsin may find it tempting to relax tight monetary policies in
order to defuse the criticism. Those monetary policies have helped
cut inflation and restored faith in the Russian economy abroad but
also impoverished millions of Russians. Chubais, in tendering his
resignation, warned that any change of economic course would be a
Ultimately, if Yeltsin runs for a second term, he will have to
choose whether to disavow market reforms or continue backing economic
liberalization. He will likely try to do both while appearing to do
neither. But that is unlikely to satisfy Russian voters. The
Communists and nationalists have smelled blood and are redoubling
their attacks against the Kremlin. If he wants to get re-elected,
Yeltsin will have to do better than blame his underlings and reverse
unpopular policies. Those moves will neither appease his critics nor
win over Russia's voters.