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Western Press Review: Yeltsin Sends Thunderbolt Through Cabinet

  • Don Hill

Prague, 12 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- "Heads will roll in the Russian hierarchy," the "Los Angeles Times'" Carol J. Williams trumpets in an analysis of President Boris Yeltsin's decree yesterday taking the first giant step in a reorganization of his government. Western commentary generally approves, but almost unanimously withholds final judgment, awaiting the steps to follow.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The new government must attack corruption and tax evasion

Today's edition of the British newspaper says in an editorial: "Mr. Boris Yeltsin's decision to sack his entire government -- with the exception of Mr. Victor Chernomyrdin, the prime minister, and Mr. Anatoly Chubais, the newly re-appointed first deputy prime minister -- is bold." The editorial says: "Mr. Yeltsin's recent decisions show he has realized that the period since the presidential election last July as been wasted."

The newspaper warns: "The new government's program must concentrate on attacking corruption and tax evasion, eliminating wasteful subsidies, paying its arrears, privatizing land, and promoting competition and free entry for new business." And concludes: "Russia is now a laggard among the economies in transformation. This is Mr. Chubais' chance to turn the giant around. It must be seized."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The reorganizing is in the hands of a market-oriented manager

In the U.S. newspaper today, staff writer Marshall Ingwerson says in an analysis: "The restaffing and reorganizing will be largely in the hands of a market-oriented manager who ran the privatization of Russia's economy in the early 1990s and is forever tapping notes into his laptop computer: Anatoly Chubais. After a couple of years of policy drift, political campaign distraction, and serious health problems, Mr. Yeltsin has shaken off his doldrums and moved his sights beyond stability to aggressive reform. His thrust is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the chaotic Russian government -- especially how it monitors and spends its money."

He writes: "But Yeltsin has yet to move definitively beyond talk to action. The next telling sign will be whether he in fact drastically cuts the number of ministers. A Western diplomat notes that the week's delay before naming the new Cabinet represents an opportunity for Chubais's clout to erode against pressures from strong interest groups in the Russian economy. The kind of reorganizing Chubais is planning would mean that instead of naming vice premiers to oversee branches of government and ministries, Mr. Chernomyrdin and Chubais would appoint vice premiers to each of four key areas for reform: housing, pensions, the military, and the natural monopolies."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Chubais is likely to emerge as de facto head of government

Carol Williams' analysis continues: "In keeping with long-standing Kremlin traditions of illusion and intrigue, titles mean less than the personal clout of those who hold them. Chubais, the most ardent advocate of capitalism in the Yeltsin camp, is likely to emerge as de facto head of both Kremlin administration and the new Chernomyrdin government, with a mandate to jump-start the stalled economic revolution."

She writes: "Chubais has stepped on toes with his unflinching support of market reforms, despite the social hardships they have inflicted. But it is that commitment Yeltsin likely is counting on to resolve the government debts crisis and to convince the International Monetary Fund that it should resume $10 billion (worth of) loans and credits to Russia suspended late last year because of the government's failure to collect delinquent taxes."

WASHINGTON POST: The new leadership may be more energetic and market-oriented

In a news analysis in today's edition, Lee Hockstader writes from Moscow: "The decree sent ripples of fear through the ranks of Yeltsin's senior aides and cabinet officials, whose fates are expected to be decided within the week. Clenched smiles in public were the order of the day."

Hockstader says: "But among those who favor reinvigorating Russia's stalled economic reform drive there was optimism that the new leadership would be more energetic, more market-oriented and less wedded to entrenched business oligarchies whose interests are intertwined with the government's. That optimism was based largely on the enormous new power conferred on free-market economist Anatoly Chubais."

ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Russia is in an unstable limbo

Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright write today in a news analysis: "The decree to disband and reorganize the rest of his 13 deputy premiers and 50 cabinet members put some punch behind Yeltsin's unprecedented critique last week -- delivered in his first major speech after eight months of illness -- in which he blamed his own government for miring Russia in a slough of troubles.

"However, Yeltsin's failure to appear on television to explain the government shakeup, to make new appointments or to say which other ministers might be retained left Russia in an unstable limbo just eight days before Yeltsin is to join President Clinton for a summit meeting in Finland."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Top jobs will go to those who can be trusted with 'family secrets'

Writing from Moscow in today's edition, Alan Philps calls the cabinet deconstruction a Yeltsin "attempt to turn the page on the stagnation and corruption of the past eight months, when he has been laid low by illness." Philps says in an analysis: "The message is that top jobs in the Kremlin will go only to those from the inner circle who can be trusted with the family secrets, particularly about Mr. Yeltsin's health. While the president looks better than at any time since June, political gossip still focuses on how much longer he can stand the strain of the presidency."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin has neutralized the Communist-dominated Parliament

Chrystia Freeland in Moscow writes today in a news analysis that the decree constitutes "a robust display of presidential authority." She says: "The bold move suggest that after a lackluster first year dominated by Mr. Yeltsin's illness and presidential elections, the Kremlin again has taken the decision to embark upon radical economic reforms."

She concludes: "Mr. Yeltsin has neutralized cunningly another potential source of opposition, the Communist-dominated parliament. Parliament must approve the appointment of a new prime minister but this week's radical shuffle does not require legislative consent."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Yeltsin has abandoned the politics of consensus

And in today's edition of the British paper, Phil Reeves says in an analysis: "The shake-up is evidence that Mr. Yeltsin is determined to impose his stamp of authority." Reeves writes: "But it also indicates that Mr. Yeltsin has all but abandoned the politics of consensus." Reeves continues: "The majority of parliament despises Mr. Chubais, and his appointment is a sign that Mr. Yeltsin no longer is interested in peace-making."