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Russia: Primakov Appears Ready To Strengthen Government's Role

Moscow, 29 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- There is still no sign that Russia's Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has a comprehensive plan to improve the economic situation. But there is no mistake of his intention to strengthen the role of the central state in both the economy and politics.

Meeting his morning with members of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, Primakov called on legislators to adopt legislation allowing the removal from office "selected public figures" considered guilty of breaking the law.

Yesterday, Primakov announced that the government had paid off back military wages and was planning to pay off debts for student stipends. He stopped short of explaining where the money came from. .

This has prompted speculations that the government already started printing money. Indeed, at the week-end exchange booths in Moscow were giving 500 Ruble bills in exchange for dollars. Many clients interpreted the appearance of large quantities of bright new big bills as a sign that printing of rubles is under way.

Russian officials have said that "controlled emission" of rubles is unavoidable, but will not produce hyper-inflation. But Martin Gilman, head of the IMF's office in Moscow, yesterday said that "in the 53 years' existence of the IMF, we've never really heard of a concept in economics called a controlled emission."

Last Friday, addressing the leadership of the Interior Ministry in the presence of many government ministers as well as communist State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev and Yeltsin's security aide Yevgeny Sevastyanov, Primakov called on the security agencies to help stabilizing Russia's crumbling economy.

Primakov said in a televised address that "the stabilization of the ruble depends largely on the Interior Ministry." He called security organs --the Interior Ministry, the General Prosecutor office, the security service and the tax police-- effectively to remove criminal groups from positions of control over Russia's economy to crack down on tax-dodgers and prevent capital flight.

Some officials in Moscow have expressed worries in private conversations that Primakov's message, coming as it did from the former Soviet official presiding over a government composed mainly by Soviet-era functionaries, may suggest that the search for economic criminal could easily turn into a witchhunt. Particularly in the situation in which the economy is in serious trouble.

But Nikolai Petrov, an analyst in the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says that there is no question of taking strong measures against former government officials, not the least because this would cause problems for the Primakov government in the West. This, in turn, could diminish the already meager chances of obtaining funds needed by the government.

Sergei Markov, director of the Moscow Institute of Political Studies, goes further in saying that Primakov's apparent efforts to strengthen government control are "logical," in that they are likely to be well received by the public. Markov says that most Russians are strongly critical of the fact that many sectors of the economy are controlled by shadowy figures with political connections.

Both analysts agree that Primakov wants to strength the state. According to Markov, "any economic policy is likely to be bad in the present situation, because there is no government in the position to implement it." The government, he adds, has to prove that it can impose order. Citing research conducted by his institute, Markov says that "if in the past the Russian people saw the concepts of order and freedom as mutually opposed, now they see them together." He says that the public is likely to support a government capable of providing both.

Petrov doubts, however, that Primakov would be able to act on his intentions. Indeed, according to an analyst who asked to remain unnamed, it is unclear how security forces, demoralized and reputedly as corrupt as any other state agency, could do the job effectively.

Primakov is scheduled to present his government's economic program later this week (Thursday), but officials today hinted that it could come much later.

Government spokesman Andrei Kratkov said that the government will consider economic proposals on Thursday, then all necessary amendments should be made by the following week (Oct. 8) and then "it will be discussed by the government and after this it will become a program of action."