Moscow, 6 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Former Russian acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, a pivotal figure in his country's early economic reforms, says he helped prepare the nationwide address that President Boris Yeltsin delivered today to both houses of the Russian parliament.
In his speech, Yeltsin criticized the government of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and said he would announce Cabinet changes in the coming days.
Gaidar told RFE/RL that Yeltsin's criticism was prompted by the president's acknowledgement that the current Cabinet is not able to carry out the reform program that allowed Yeltsin to win re-election last year.
Gaidar said Yeltsin admits that a government reshuffle cannot be delayed because of growing discontent over unpaid wages and pensions.
Trade unions are planning a nationwide strike this month. Yeltsin said the protest is largely justified and is an alarming sign that the patience of Russians is at an end.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that President Yeltsin's criticisms of the government in a keynote speech today were serious and justified.
Chernomyrdin, who spoke at a government meeting, said the government has now been charged with what he called a new level of responsibility.
In his state of the nation speech to parliament Yeltsin said the government had proved itself incapable of working without the president's authority and showed a lack of responsibility and competence. Yeltsin promised cabinet changes in the near future.
Yeltsin also called for urgent reform of the armed forces and said he would announce what he called fundamental changes soon. He confirmed his commitment to ending conscription. On the budget, he said he would take the writing of it under his control.
Turning to relations with former Soviet countries, Yeltsin called for greater integration among members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. In particular he called for greater integration between Russia and Belarus. He said it would be a year of great decisions for the two countries. In a reference to the Baltic States, he said Russia had no imperial ambitions but that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia must not discriminate against Russian minorities.
On NATO Yeltsin reiterated Russia's opposition to expansion.
Presidential chief of staff Anatoly Chubais told reporters that Yeltsin today had set forth a clear program of action for this year.
Chubais, who is popular with foreign investors but disliked by the communists and nationalists who dominate parliament, has been tipped for a new position in a new government line-up. Russian media predict he will be named first deputy prime minister in charge of the economy.
Yeltsin's speech drew strong criticism from Russian communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov. Zyuganov, who heads the largest opposition faction in the communist and nationalist dominated Duma, said Yeltsin's speech lacked analysis and any concrete details on how reforms will be carried out.