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Russia: Duma Puts Off Budget Debate For Two Weeks

Moscow, 29 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Despite a plea by Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the State Duma will not debate the 1998 budget this week. Analysts in Moscow say the move indicates that the Duma, dominated by Communists and their allies, may aim at obtaining more concessions from the Kremlin and the government.

Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of the pro-government "Our Home is Russia" faction, said the Communist leadership also "did not want to show to its electorate that it is voting in favor of the budget ahead of the 80th anniversary of the October revolution." (Nov. 7).

The Communist faction, the largest in the 450-member Duma, last week withdrew signatures of its members from a motion of no-confidence in the government. The faction did so in exchange for what many critics said -- including some within the faction and among its allies -- were simply a package of modest concessions from President Boris Yeltsin. Earlier this month, the Duma had rejected the government's original draft, and planned the no-confidence vote, a move most analysts here termed as a "show" from each side.

As Duma faction leaders yesterday scheduled the 1998 budget debate for next month (Nov. 12-14), the government approved the guidelines of a compromise 1998 draft budget worked out last week by a tri-lateral commission of government representatives and members of both houses of the Russian parliament (State Duma and Federation Council).

The revised budget meets deputies' demands for increased funding of the military, agriculture and social programs by simply raising the expected amount of revenues to more than 360 billion new rubles (more than $62 billion), from the government's original figure of 340 billion rubles. This represents an increase of about six percent. Correspondingly, projected spending is also raised. The budget is calculated in new rubles, that will begin circulation January 1. One new ruble will be worth 1,000 old ones.

The projected inflation rate will be about six percent. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais said last week that the new revenue projection "strains the limits of common sense" and cannot be increased further. And, despite the government's poor performance in boosting tax collection and budget revenues, the main source of additional revenues is expected to come from increased tax collection and rescheduling of tax arrears.

Yesterday, the government also approved a package of ten draft taxation laws that, according to Chernomyrdin "will ensure the fulfillment of the revenue part of the 1998 budget." Next month's debate will open with consideration of tax-law changes.

The no-confidence vote was withdrawn after Yeltsin agreed to regular, round-table, high-level talks with the opposition on political, economic and social issues, and to the creation of parliamentary programs on two channels of Russian television. Yeltsin and other top Russian politicians, including members of government and top communist leaders said the round-table talks, set to begin next month, will open a new era of cooperation, rather then confrontation, between the Duma and the government.

However, analysts in Moscow say the roundtable represents mainly a public relation effort, and will be equally advantageous for the Kremlin and the Communist opposition. Yeltsin, who has been accused by many critics in Russia and abroad of being unable to work with the Duma in a productive way, obviously gains in showing his ability to draw the Communists to the negotiating table.

For Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, the roundtable is important, because it displays his party's 'political weight.'

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview yesterday that "the Communists needed a reason for self-preservation." Nemtsov said the roundtable will be mainly a "political club, where various, even mad political ideas will be discussed...but concrete decisions are unlikely."

But this is not the image and message Zyuganov wants to convey to supporters and to more radical allies.

Last weekend, he led a delegation of about 20 Communist politicians to St Petersburg to mark the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution. Despite praising the achievements of the Soviet period in front of a group of supporters, Zyuganov said that "today is a new era, and we must avoid such revolutionary uprisings."

His message appeared to be directed mainly at critics in his own party and its allies. Deputy Duma Chairman Sergei Baburin - co-leader of the "Popular-Rule" faction, which is closely associated with the Communist faction - accused the Communist leadership of giving in to the Kremlin. Baburin said that, following last week's failure to carry out the 'no-confidence threat,' the Communist opposition "lost political initiative," and showed that "it is now in deep crisis." Baburin's words, however, are unlikely to threaten the control that Zyuganov and Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev, also a Communist, have on the leftist opposition in the Duma.

Baburin has also suggested Communists would begin to lose their grip in the regions. However, the results of recent gubernatorial elections seem to contradict Baburin's point of view, and indicate that good relations with the Kremlin can be advantageous for some regional candidates. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroyev - a former top Communist Party member, turned Yeltsin ally - at the weekend won the election to retain his post as governor of the Orel region with more than 94 percent of the vote.

Stroyev's landslide victory followed that of one of Yeltsin's main former foes, Aman Tuleyev, who was elected governor of the Kemerovo region two weeks ago. In televised comments broadcasted during a visit to Paris yesterday, Tuleyev, who had often strongly criticized Yeltsin and members of the government, of which he was at one point a member, said Russia's political situation has "stabilized." He said "more cooperation" is now needed between Moscow and the regions, "in order to attract much needed investment" to regional economies.

Stroyev, who ruled Orel in Soviet times, was one of the first conservative regional bosses to choose cooperation with Yeltsin, instead of confrontation. He formally quit the Communist Party after he was elected Orel governor for the first time in 1993, and declared his new banner was now pragmatism for the sake of voters.

According to RFE/RL reports from Orel, local media displayed a strong pro-Stroyev bias during the campaign. The media, most of which are subsidized by the regional administration, publicized numerous appeals from citizens to vote for Stroyev.