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Western Press Review: Russia Undergoes Change

Prague 25 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Boris Yeltsin's appointment of Viktor Chernomyrdin Prime Minister is fodder for most major European dailies today.

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: One can perceive in this maneuver a constructive sense

In Switzerland, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) in a commentary entitled "Yeltsin Belongs To The Core Of The Crisis", says "With all the consternation over Yeltsin's erratic decisions, one can perceive in this maneuver nevertheless a constructive sense. The Kremlin boss appears to have signaled his resolve to be more persistent in pushing ahead with the desperately needed modernization and rationalization of the Russian economy."

NZZ adds, "instead of placing responsibility where it belongs and covering Kiriyenko's rear in this stormy period, the President has resorted to his old trick: firing the cabinet and calling the same Chernomyrdin to the prime ministership whom he let go from the very same post in March because of inadequate efficiency."

IRISH TIMES: Mr. Kiriyenko had neither the toughness nor the guile to get the better of the system

An editorial in Dublin's Irish Times, entitled "Musical Chairs In Moscow" says "it is a measure of the desperation of President Yeltsin that he has found it necessary to sack his entire government for a second time within four months. It is a U-turn of extraordinary daring, made by a man who is not just on the ropes but falling to the canvas. But the sad truth about the sacking is that Mr. Yeltsin's primary motivation is to save the last two years of his presidency (at whatever cost) and not to restore health to the bankrupt Russian economy. Mr. Yeltsin has bought more time, but there will be a price to pay."

The paper continues: "There will be few tears shed for the dismissed prime minister, Mr. Sergei Kiriyenko. When he was appointed in April the Russian economy was in relatively good shape. The ruble was steady, foreign investment was on the rise and inflation was under control; after nine years of decline there were forecasts of growth, albeit marginal. But the ruble, while steady, was overvalued and Mr. Kiriyenko refused to accept the inevitability of devaluation (or was not allowed to by Mr. Yeltsin) until billions of IMF loans had been wasted in the ruble's defense.... Mr. Kiriyenko's original policies had their merits.... Unfortunately, Mr. Kiriyenko had neither the toughness nor the guile to get the better of the system."

GUARDIAN: Russia can breathe again

In Britain, The Guardian in an editorial "The End of Yeltsin" says "Boris Yeltsin has given Russia its best news for a long time. In praising his reappointed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin yesterday as a man whose virtues will be 'decisive' in the presidential election of 2000, he was signaling that he will not run again. The risk that he would provoke yet another constitutional crisis by trying to have a third term in power falls away. Russia can breathe again."

REPUBBLICA: Russia today is just one step from an institutional earthquake

In Rome, the liberal/left daily la Repubblica comments: "the era of Boris Yeltsin is drawing to a close. As a result of the economic crisis Russia today is just one step from an institutional earthquake. Yeltsin had to name Chernomyrdin his successor. Even if he is credited with an extraordinary ability to hold onto power, nevertheless Yeltsin's latest move appears to be marked by numerous contradictions and has considerably weakened his position. Not only has Yeltsin restored at the head of government the man whom he removed just four months ago. It was virtually a public investiture. This could be a veiled hint that Yeltsin wants to leave office before his term is up."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Yeltsin acted with an unfortunate combination of ignorance and political opportunism

Milan's conservative daily Corriere della Sera says , "The president is exhausted, the reforms are spoiled, the businesses are in the hands of a band of 'oligarchs'... Yeltsin's biggest failing was to deal with economic problems with an extraordinary unfortunate combination of ignorance and political opportunism."

FIGARO: Western countries do not want any more chaos

The conservative Parisian daily le Figaro, comments today, "the western countries will continue to support Yeltsin because they fear that a serious crisis in Russia will only worsen the effect of the Asian crisis and because they do not want any more chaos in Moscow. But they are all quietly asking themselves, 'is Yeltsin just a puppeteer, a fickle personality or a man about to breathe his last?' Chernomyrdin is to be wished all the best."

LIBERATION: Chernomyrdin bears considerably more responsibility for the current collapse than Kiriyenko

The liberal-left Paris daily Liberation writes, "there is no guarantee that Chernomyrdin will live up to the role that has been bestowed upon him, as savior of Russia. The five years that he stood at the head of the government do not speak in favor of him. A man of halfway measures, of caution and lobbies, by his delaying tactics bears considerably more responsibility for the current collapse than the inexperience of a Sergei Kiriyenko."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Chernomyrdin is supposed to bring about trust in Russia

An editorial today in Germany's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says: "What failed to succeed with 40,000 million Deutschmarks in international emergency aid is now to be resolved by a man who just five months ago was let go without warning for alleged economic policy failures. He is supposed to bring about trust in Russia in what at the moment appears to be its bleak future."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Chernomyrdin should succeed Yeltsin as president using government means

A commentary in the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, entitled "Chernomyrdin: Yeltsin's Last Straw", says "One can not deny that Yeltsin has a certain sense of humor: When he fired Viktor Chernomyrdin in March, he justified this with enabling him to prepare for the presidential campaign in the year 2000. Chernomyrdin had just five months to devote himself to this honorary activity and now once again he is Yeltsin's candidate for the office of prime minister. The head of state's justification: Chernomyrdin should ensure the continuity of power in the year 2000. That can mean nothing else but that he should prepare to succeed Yeltsin as president using government means."

DER STANDARD: It is certainly not a triumphal come-back

The Austrian daily Der Standard in an editorial by Christoph Winder titled "The Man From Gazprom as Come-back Kid" says "By all appearances, come-back kids do not only exist in Washington. Moscow is also currently experiencing a spectacular case of political 'back to square one'. Out of the trap-door on the political stage that on Sunday swallowed the short-term prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko comes Viktor Chernomyrdin as his own successor. It may be a come-back, but it is certainly not a triumphal come-back. Who wants to contradict the head of the Yabloko bloc in the Duma, Vladimir Lukin, when he suggests that the moves in the Russian government testify to 'strong uncertainty and confusion in the center of the state leadership."

DIE PRESSE: One suspects Yeltsin no longer has control over the Russian giant

The conservative Vienna daily Die Presse in a commentary by Andreas Schwarz titled, "The Giant Collapses", contrasts Yeltsin's plight with that of US President Bill Clinton: "The American president fires a couple of rockets against terrorist nests and can not shake the suspicion that this also has to do with his problems at home. The Russian President replaces his Prime Minister whom he appointed just last March with the one whom he fired back then and cannot shake the suspicion that this also has to do with his problem that he no longer has control over the Russian giant.