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Russia: Cabinet Gets High Marks After 100 Days

Moscow, 24 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- As Russia's opposition-controlled State Duma starts its summer recess today, the country's new government marks 100 days in power, saying it has laid a foundation for economic growth.

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov held a press conference in Moscow yesterday -- the government's 99th day in power -- to mark the occasion. Nemtsov said government achievements include moves to bring down inflation and interest rates, fight widespread corruption among state officials, end rent subsidies, and lower gas and electric rates to provide an additional boost to the economy.

Nemtsov emphasized government pressure for ending pension arrears and for encouraging economic growth. But he also recanted a recent statement by his main government partner, the other Russian first deputy prime minister, Anatoly Chubais, Nemstov said the government does not expect real economic growth until next year. Chubais had predicted economic growth by the end of this year.

Nemtsov said that when the new government team took office last March, pension payments were up to date only in 16 Russian regions. He said that people get their pensions on time now in 60 regions. By the end of this month, he said, all pensioners will get their money.

He denied rumors of dissension between the young team of ministers led by him and Chubais and older politicians led by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin over Russia's reform course. He said he the government has made progress through efficient teamwork.

Many analysts consider Nemtsov a would-be president. He's rated by Russian opinion polls as the country's most popular politician. But he says he has no plans to run in the next presidential election, scheduled for the year 2000. He said that President Boris Yeltsin has "risen like a phoenix" from the ashes of last year's health problems and heart surgery.

Market-oriented observers in Moscow say Nemtsov and the new cabinet deserve high grades for their work so far. Sergei Markov, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow, said the new team of young ministers has shown a "more professional and determined approach than that of previous governments." Markov said the government has moved reforms to the next level and implementing actions to boost Russia's economic growth, sometimes at the expense of industrial and financial lobbies.

A number of observers in Russia and in the West contend that Russia operates under what some are calling "state capitalism," in which politicians and business elites that profited from the privatization of state-owned property after the breakup of the USSR work in too close collaboration.

"If such a trend was visible before, the new government's performance shows a shift in the direction of a more anti-lobby line," said Markov.

Other analysts say Nemtsov's record on reforming Russia's giant industry monopolies into more transparent and easily-managed companies is impressive. The cabinet and Nemtsov have forced natural-gas monopoly Gazprom to pay off back taxes by July 1.

Markov said the privatization of which Chubais was one of the main architects allowed the sell off of state-owned businesses to a forming class of businessmen and bankers. Markov said that Chubais' main concern at the time was achieving privatization and making it irreversible. He said that, "Now Chubais' main goal is to achieve economic growth." He added that the new cabinet seems determined to take decisions in this direction that could go against the interests of the financial and industrial lobbies.