Russia's youth revolution New cabinet: Always unpredictable, Boris Yeltsin chooses vigor over experience.

May 24, 1998

NOT SINCE Lenin's Bolsheviks overthrew the Romanov dynasty in 1917 has Russia been ruled by as young a group of eager beavers as the new Kremlin government.

But youth is not the only remarkable thing about the cabinet that 35-year-old Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko has assembled based on President Boris N. Yeltsin's wishes.

The cumbersome post-Soviet governmental structure -- with two first deputy prime ministers and seven deputy prime ministers -- has been streamlined.

Will this fresh and simplified leadership group perform any better than Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's government of more seasoned bureaucrats?

The Kiriyenko cabinet represents a welcome attempt by Mr. Yeltsin to try innovative solutions and weaken the power of a handful of post-communist robber barons who had become too cozy with Kremlin decision makers.

Another novel feature of the cabinet is the inclusion of Vitaly Budko, the former leader of Russia's militant coal miners union, as chief of the federal service overseeing monopolies in transport. The cabinet is taking steps to resolve the web of problems that have led to millions of Russians -- from military officers to factory workers -- going without wages for months.

The Chernomyrdin government was never able to arrange for payment of the arrears, even though delays and outright nonpayment of wages have produced widespread misery and are a source of much political instability. The situation is out of hand. No simple solution exists. Instead of massive one-time payments, bargaining for partial compensation is under way. That will not be easy, though. Unpaid workers no longer trust Moscow. That's why Russia is experiencing a surge in labor unrest.

After years of hyperinflation, Russia's economic conditions have gradually stabilized. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, nominal economic growth was registered last year. Prime Minister Kiriyenko wants that growth to continue. His cabinet will have a full plate.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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