Man for one season runs out of time

Russian crisis: After four months of grappling with dire economic problems, Sergei Kiriyenko departs

BORIS YELTSIN'S sacking of his prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko, ended a career that was both astonishingly brief, even by the standards of this politically unstable land, and blighted by inexperience, noisy enemies and pure bad luck. His departure is likely to draw groans in the West, despite efforts by the White House to say President Bill Clinton had anticipated Mr Yeltsin's shake-up, adding, implausibly, that "it is policies and not personalities that matter" to the US.

Until close to the end, Mr Kiriyenko was seen in the West as reasonably competent and literate in the theories of market economics. Shortly after his arrival in office, diplomats began to describe his government as the most energetic and reform-orientated to date. Their previous loyalty to Viktor Chernomyrdin melted treacherously away, with mutterings that he belonged to the old crony-riddled, favour-trading school of the Soviet Union.

With Mr Chernomyrdin's unexpected return to the prime minister's office, we can expect another change of tune. But the truth is that both the young man and his replacement aremore pragmatists than ideologues. Mr Kiriyenko is one of a breed of clever young opportunists who spotted fortunes to be made, and business empires to be built, when Mikhail Gorbachev loosened the bonds of the Communist state and the Soviet Union.

At a shipyard in Gorky (later Nizhny Novgorod) where he was a foreman engineer, he became a regional leader of the Communist youth organisation, seen as a training ground for aspiring party leaders. The same instinct can perhaps be detected behind a decision, in his childhood, to change his Jewish surname; being half-Jewish in this anti-Semitic country is not the best recipe for success. He moved on quickly to found a bank, run an oil business, and - critically - to build a friendship with the glamorous young local governor, Boris Nemtsov, later to become a top minister.

That helped Mr Kiriyenko make his all-important move to Moscow, initially as a junior minister of the Ministry of Fuel and Energy, and eventually as boss. In March, looking like a slightly bewildered class swot, he was thrust into the limelight by Mr Yeltsin as his nominee for prime minister, with instructions to breathe life into Russia's moribund reform process.

The world was amazed; some observers suspected that, after a lifetime of drink and heart trouble, "Tsar Boris" was losing his grip (speculation that we can expect to revive after last night's decision). Most of the political opposition was hostile. Mr Kiriyenko was 35, and looked every bit as green as his CV implied. Luck was not on his side during his four months at the helm. He initially won fans at home and abroad, impressed by the way he handled a three-round confirmation process before a truculent parliament in April.

He remained largely above partisan sniping, and began to look like the professional manager he claimed to be. Some newspapers began to refer to him by using his nickname - "the little computer".

But it was not long before the immensity of Russia's problems - aggravated by external factors such as the low oil price and the Asian crisis - began to engulf him.

Miners blocked the Trans-Siberian railway, demanding unpaid wages; nuclear scientists marched on Moscow. The volume of protest grew louder, even though widespread unrest remained unlikely.

Mr Kiriyenko began, at times, to have a little-boy-lost air. Faced with a budget deficit, the intolerably heavy burden of short-term debt and - as a consequence - a tottering rouble, he turned again to the International Monetary Fund.

A $23bn (pounds 14.3bn) rescue package was crafted, partly conditional on the passage of an austerity programme through parliament.

But the State Duma, or lower house, dragged its feet. Desperate to raise revenues, a heavily publicised campaign to persuade people to pay taxes swung into action, headed by the energetic new head of the tax police, Boris Fyodorov.

The government targeted the mighty gas monopoly Gazprom, fiefdom of Mr Kiriyenko's predecessor - and now successor - Mr Chernomyrdin himself. At one point, the government even threatened to seize its assets.

On Friday Mr Kiriyenko appeared before an emergency session, to chivvy the legislature into supporting his new laws.

Having been forced to allow the rouble to devalue, heralding inevitable price rises, and to default on some foreign loans, he knew he was in trouble. The worst was yet to come, he told the chamber, as its members clamoured for his scalp and Mr Yeltsin's. In the end, he was right - in more senses than one.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Clarke Carlisle
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'