Russia to stay on reform track: Rise of far right and Communists will force government staff changes but no policy shift

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PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin, who has said little about the success of the far right and Communists in this week's elections, let it be known yesterday that some government staff changes would have to be made, but only so as to further reform, not slow or reverse it.

'The advance of extreme forces should be regarded seriously but calmly,' said Anatoly Krasikov, the presidential spokesman. 'The new situation requires some personnel changes. The main aim of those is the success of democratic reforms. Yeltsin has said clearly that he intends to stick firmly to the chosen course.'

Preliminary results showed Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) winning about a fifth of the seats in the lower house of the new parliament, and already two presidential advisers have lost their jobs. Both men had thrown in their lot with the deputy prime minister, Sergei Shakhrai, who helped split the reformist vote by creating his own party instead of staying with the main pro-Yeltsin bloc, Russia's Choice. Mr Shakhrai's cabinet prospects do not now look promising.

And Vyacheslav Bragin, the head of the Ostankino Commonwealth television channel, was sacked yesterday. His board said: 'The consequences of his short-sighted policy in managing the company triggered catastrophic results at a decisive moment for Russia.'

The station allowed Mr Zhirinovsky to pay for extra air time over and above the free broadcasts allotted to all 13 parties, then, in a panic, transmitted a programme on the eve of the poll portraying him as an anti-Semitic madman. Ostankino also bungled with an election-night special in the form of a champagne party; the plug had to be pulled on this when it became clear the reformers had nothing to celebrate.

So far the sackings have been on the periphery, but some cabinet ministers might have to go in order to woo centrists and Communists into an anti-fascist coalition. Mikhail Gorbachev said in an interview with Reuters that Russian voters did not really want fascism but had been protesting against economic shock therapy, which the reformers should now abandon. It looks as if Russia's Choice will get about 94 seats in the 450-seat lower house to 78 for the LDP and 64 for the Communists. Smaller parties will take the rest.

Mr Zhirinovsky, who sees Mr Yeltsin as a lame-duck leader, has said he does not mind whether he joins the government or goes into 'constructive opposition' until presidential elections. His price for joining a coalition is the removal of Yegor Gaidar, the Deputy Prime Minister, Anatoly Chubais, the Privatisation Minister, and Andrei Kozyrev, the Foreign Minister.

Although Mr Yeltsin's smartest move might be to make Mr Zhirinovsky minister of agriculture, a thankless job that virtually guarantees political death, it seems more likely he will try to keep him out of the cabinet, especially given the views espoused by the LDP leader. Yesterday Kuranty newspaper quoted Mr Zhirinovsky as saying Russia should be 'thinking about colonies' and provoking 'wars between native tribes' by which he meant Armenians, Azeris, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turks and Afghans. 'They will slaughter each other and then they - or rather those who are still alive - will come rushing to ask Russia to accept them.'

His comments have not impressed Al Gore, the visiting US Vice-President, who said yesterday: 'Any time someone emerges on the scene who talks cavalierly about mass death, the world cannot remain silent.' But the Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, assured the West: 'There is no need to be afraid of Russia.'

(Photograph omitted)