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Russia: Yeltsin's State Of The Nation Brings Muted Reactions

Moscow, 6 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin today asserted the need to speed up reform, eradicate corruption and streamline the government.

Yeltsin addressed the joint session of Russia's two parliamentary houses in a nationally-televised speech summarizing a draft of a longer state of the nation report. The written, 60-page long report was subsequently distributed to all deputies.

Following the speech, legislators were reported to have expressed mixed reactions. Most said that they wanted to see what steps the government will take to implement Yeltsin's plans.

Yeltsin looked confident and healthy during his 25-minute address. This, in itself, was politically important. The president clearly wanted to demonstrate that he is back in control after having been out of the Kremlin since the last year's elections.

Yeltsin admitted that the government had failed to fulfill most of its promises, especially on social issues. He said that he would initiate personnel changes to assure better work. But he stopped short of disclosing who and what sectors of the government would be affected. Presidential adviser Georgy Satarov said subsequently that no announcements of changes should be expected today.

Following the address, many communist deputies were reported to have criticized the address as "meaningless." The party leader Gennady Zyuganov called it a "buffoonery." He said it lacked a real analysis of "the government's policy of robbery of the Russian people." Zyuganov said Yeltsin has been responsible for such a policy.

Pro-reform Nizhny Novgorod governor Boris Nemtsov was reported to have said that Yeltsin's words of criticism toward the cabinet were not surprising. Nemtsov went on to suggest that Yeltsin may appoint Anatoly Chubais, who currently heads the presidential office and has a well established reputation as a reformer, to ensure the implementation of economic changes.

Kremlin sources in the past few days have been saying that Chubais might be appointed to the position of Deputy Prime Minister in charge of economy.

Popular Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov today told RFE/RL that the possible appointment of Chubais could indeed enhance chances for the implementation of a new, more effective decision-making within the government.

His praise of a Chubais government candidacy is interesting and may be politically significant. Luzhkov has been frequently mentioned as harboring presidential ambitions. Chubais orchestrated Yeltsin's successful presidential campaign last year. Only recently Luzhkov have publicly castigated Chubais as responsible for a media campaign against him. His current turnaround could mean that he intends to build bridges to the recognized political and media wizard.