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Russia: New Government Takes Reformist Image

Moscow, 18 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The new Russian government is quickly acquiring a reformist image.

Russian observers say the new cabinet, apparently to be led by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and two First Deputy Premiers, Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, may be the most aggressively market-oriented government since 1992.

Yesterday, the president appointed several other officials to deputy prime minister posts, mostly linked with economic portfolios. Most of them are regarded as close to Chubais. This, in addition to Yeltsin's decision to put Chubais in charge of the finance ministry, could suggest that the former head of the presidential administration will exercise major influence over economic policies.

But this also means that the role of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, who had maintained considerable control over the economy, could be affected. Chernomyrdin has long maintained strong links to big industrial monopolies and Soviet-era conservatives. It may be that their influence could now wane.

Aleksandr Bekker, editorialist for the daily "Segodnya," says that the appointment of Nemtsov might have been intended to introduce a "third force," mitigating potential conflicts between Chernomyrdin and Chubais.

Dmitry Pinsker, political analyst for the weekly "Itogi," says that Nemtsov held already talks on the subject of government work with Chubais, but apparently has not yet met Chernomyrdin.

Nemtsov is to be in charge of social policies, supervising Russia's natural monopolies and relations with regional government.

These issues could put Nemtsov in direct conflict with politically well-entrenched bureaucratic lobbies which have hampered reforms in the past. One of his tasks is to deal with economic abuses by monopolies such as the gas and electricity company Gazprom. The gas giant has long enjoyed close ties to Chernomyrdin who used to head the company.

But observers also say that such a situation will give Yeltsin an opportunity to play off one senior government official against another, to keep them under his direct control and to limit their political ambitions. Both Chernomyrdin and Nemtsov have been seen as Yeltsin's potential successors.

"Itogi" editor in chief Sergei Parkhomenko says that the government reshuffle is "Yeltsin's answer to all the talk about Chubais becoming his regent and about a president who has become an impotent old man."