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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert