Yeltsin appoints political neophyte as prime minister President warns the Duma, pledges new ideas and energy

March 28, 1998|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Declaring political inexperience a virtue and daring parliament to contradict him, President Boris N. Yeltsin appointed 35-year-old Sergei V. Kiriyenko yesterday as prime minister of Russia.

Yeltsin, who began his first week back at work after yet another illness by summoning his loyal prime minister, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, to the Kremlin and firing him, thus ended the workweek with a similarly dramatic moment.

He swept into government headquarters at the Russian White House before 9 a.m., met for an hour with Kiriyenko, the acting prime minister, then told waiting reporters that he expected the State Duma to ratify his choice -- or else.

"I want to address the Duma through journalists," he said, according to the Tass news agency. "Don't make a new spiral of confrontation. I won't give an easy time in that. This is useless. I don't scare. I am simply saying as president: Save time. Quickly approve Kiriyenko, and move forward."

Then he rode off to the Kremlin to inform the nation of his decision and promise that Kiriyenko would bring fresh ideas and new energy to economic reform.

Yeltsin was speaking in the same White House where he settled a disagreement with another Russian parliament in October 1993 by calling out tanks and shelling obstinate legislators into surrender.

After that messy resolution, he acquired persuasive constitutional powers. If the Duma, parliament's lower house, fails to approve his nominee for prime minister three times, he can dissolve the legislature.

Yesterday, politicians were predicting that Yeltsin would get his way, intimidating Duma deputies who might be reluctant to face an early election. Some suggested that Yeltsin had acted out of vanity and that the nation would pay the price.

"Nominating Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister means Yeltsin wants to concentrate all power in his own hands," said Sergei V. Ivanenko, deputy chairman of the Duma's liberal Yabloko faction. "Kiriyenko is an intelligent, well-educated and talented administrator. Yet, he's a technocrat, and Russia needs a political figure."

A technocrat is just what Russia needs, Yeltsin declared.

"Kiriyenko is what they call a technocrat, an expert in management," he told the nation during his regular Friday radio broadcast. "He is a man who is not linked today with any parties or movements."

Ivanenko called that a potentially disastrous weakness.

"Because Mr. Kiriyenko is an absolutely nonpolitical figure, it will be be very hard for him to work with difficult political forces," Ivanenko said. "This government will be a temporary one. And as a result, there will be instability."

The prime minister must lobby the politically contentious Duma to pass economic reforms and persuade the governors of Russia's vast regions to carry out policy made in Moscow.

"He should have a least some political backing," Ivanenko said, "either from political parties or regions, or even his own team of strong professionals to support him. He has none of this. The danger of having a technocrat in such a post is that the Duma won't support government initiatives. The governors might ignore him. In short, you have chaos."

Politicians have speculated all week that Yeltsin has decided to run again for president in 2000 when his term expires, even though the Constitution forbids it and even though his repeated illnesses have left him looking unsteady and much older than his 67 years.

The suspicion is that Yeltsin wanted to take Chernomyrdin out of the running by banishing him from the political stage and replacing him with a political weakling.

"I think he [Yeltsin] has lost a sense of reality and is out of touch with the situation in the country," Ivanenko said. "People in his entourage are such a narrow group, just a few people connected his family. And as a result, he's not getting good information."

Kiriyenko was appointed fuel and energy minister in November, and was barely known until Monday, when Yeltsin suddenly appointed him acting prime minister.

"Brain Bypass?" inquired one newspaper, alluding to Yeltsin's coronary bypass operation and commenting on how unlikely a candidate Kiriyenko was.

The balding and bespectacled Kiriyenko arrived in Moscow less than a year ago from Nizhny Novgorod, recruited by Boris Y. Nemtsov, the former governor there who is a deputy prime minister. Kiriyenko had helped set up a bank in 1994 in Nizhny Novgorod and briefly ran Norsi, Russia's third-largest oil refinery, there. He had graduated from the local Institute of Maritime Transport, specializing in shipbuilding. In 1987, he took a full-time job with the Komsomol, the Communist Youth League.

"What is your nationality?" a television interviewer asked him this week.

He replied that his mother is Russian and his late father was Jewish. (His father's name was Vladilen, a contraction of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.) His surname is Ukrainian, and, yes, he said, he had joined the Communist Party in 1982.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.