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Russia: Nemtsov Urges Quick Action To Protect Ordinary Russians

Moscow, 28 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Former reformist Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says the Russian government must act quickly to protect the livelihood of ordinary Russians.

Nemtsov says that the government's first priority should be protecting the interests of people holding bank accounts.

Nemtsov, who resigned on Monday, told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview that the government must prevent the collapse of the banking system but added that "nationalization of banks is a stupid idea."

Nemtsov said: "Replacing inefficient bankers with inefficient bureaucrats will mean that the state will have to print money and this money will never be enough to save the banks, but will fuel hyperinflation and destroy the ruble."

He said a rescue management approach, not nationalization, is the best approach right now. He also said that "foreign banks should be allowed to operate on Russian territory in the shortest time."

The obvious risk, said Nemtsov, is that "nationalists and fascists will come to power." He added that in Russia "only a fine line can be drawn between communists and fascists."

Nemtsov charged that influential Russian businessmen, the so-called "oligarchs," had brought down Sergei Kiriyenko's government in fear that it would force bankruptcy proceedings against several banks and companies, including major oil companies. Nemtsov said that the oligarchs were concerned about their interests. He also warned that Russia now risks a "return to a Soviet-style command economy."

Nemtsov's words come as pressure is mounting on Yeltsin to step down, or at least transfer a major part of his constitutional powers to the government and deputies in the communist-dominated State Duma. During recent days Yeltsin has made no public statement, fueling rumors of his imminent resignation.

The former deputy prime minister said he hopes Yeltsin will speak soon. He suggested that the president has given Viktor Chernomyrdin "ample power to form a new government and now does not want to interfere." But he added that he does "not know if the decision is right or not."

The Central Bank yesterday announced plans to nationalize SBS-Agro, Russia's second largest bank, requesting parliamentary approval for the move. SBS-Agro, led by influential Aleksandr Smolensky, holds 25 million accounts of small depositors across Russia and politically valuable media assets. Smolensky and the bank leadership have reacted angrily to the Central Banks' threat.

The move follows the removal yesterday of banking license from the Imperial bank, Russia's 13th biggest. The license was revoked without legislative approval. The Imperial bank, partially owned by the Gazprom group, had relatively few retail depositors.

Five leading Russian banks -- Oneximbank, Menatep, Mostbank, Inkombank and Narodni Bank -- announced plans earlier this week to merge.

There are speculations in Moscow that Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin will soon be replaced to satisfy the Duma's plans to print rubles to satisfy public demand. Nemtsov said that "it will be crucial to know who will be at the helm of the financial sector in government.

Nemtsov said that the government "will not function" until a new Prime Minister is approved by parliament.

Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev said today that the Duma will vote on endorsing Chernomyrdin next Monday. Political bargaining over the composition of the government and the future of President Boris Yeltsin is continuing.

Nemtsov said that Chernomyrdin may be influenced by Boris Berezovsky, a media and oil tycoon who is regarded as leading the "oligarchs."

"But Chernomyrdin is more experienced than many think," said Nemtsov, adding "he is certainly dependent on Berezovsky and the other oligarchs, including (those from) Gazprom... but in case of a choice between the interests of the country and the interests of various oligarchs, I hope Chernomyrdin, with his political ambitions, will decide in the country's favor."