Industrialists get their own voice: An apparatchik of the old order supplants a young radical - Russians are jittery following the President's nomination for prime minister

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The Independent Online
THE DIN yesterday afternoon in the Great Kremlin Palace said it all: Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's newly elected prime minister, uttered only five sentences and received four rounds of applause. Amid the confusion surrounding the political turmoil in Moscow, one thing seems certain: Mr Chernomyrdin is the type of man Russia's conservative legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies, has been waiting for.

For two weeks deputies have done little more than jeer and heckle as Yegor Gaidar and fellow champions of radical free-market change mounted the podium to defend their policies. Mr Chernomyrdin, though, was given a very different reception, endorsed overwhelmingly by 721 votes and applauded lustily.

A life-long bureaucrat, he is a man after their own heart, a product of the old order Mr Gaidar and his young acolytes had tried so hard to demolish by freeing prices and selling state firms.

'I am for reform,' promised Mr Chernomyrdin yesterday in a brief acceptance speech. But it was what came next that pleased his audience most: 'I am for deepening of reform, but without impoverishing our people.'

This is precisely the formulation that deputies have been pleading for since the Congress began on 1 December, with speech after speech from the floor pressing for a middle road between capitalism and Communism. How Mr Chernomyrdin proposes to chart such a course remains to be seen.

His background puts him squarely alongside the industrialists and former party officials who form the backbone of the Civic Union, the Congresss' biggest and most powerful bloc.

Not only is Mr Chernomyrdin a former Communist Party apparatchik, but one who has spent his entire career in a sector committed perhaps more than any other to central planning: energy.

His first big break seems to have come in 1978, when he moved from the Orenburg region to Moscow to work in the Central Committee's industry department. He easily survived the transition to Mikhail Gorbachev's programme of perestroika and in 1989 was named head of a new super-ministry, Gasprom. He quit the Communist Party in 1991 and was made a deputy prime minister in May last year, one of several conservative figures brought into the government by President Yeltsin to soothe the already rebellious industrial lobby. With his election as Prime Minister, the process begun in May is now complete: industrialists have gained not merely a voice in the government but the deciding voice.

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