Yeltsin acts to salvage reforms

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The Independent Online
IN a desperate attempt to preserve his economic reforms, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday offered Russia's conservative deputies a deal, whereby they could veto his nominations for four key ministerial posts if they endorsed his candidate for prime minister, Yegor Gaidar.

The compromise seemed to threaten dismissal for the Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, who has made as many enemies among the hardliners here as he has friends in the West for his policy of trying to return Russia to the world community.

The 1,040-member Congress of People's Deputies, elected in a partially democratic way before the collapse of Communism, did not get round to voting on Mr Yeltsin's suggestion yesterday. The correspondent for Commonwealth television told viewers at lunchtime the session would end early because the MPs, who have flown in to Moscow from the provinces, had tickets to attend an ice show in the evening. But Mr Gaidar's fate should almost certainly be settled today.

President Yeltsin had a bad shock at the weekend when the Congress came within four votes of removing his power to nominate government members and after this, it seemed most unlikely that the unpopular Mr Gaidar would garner enough support to be confirmed in office by parliament.

So Mr Yeltsin gathered the leaders of the assembly's 14 factions in the Kremlin yesterday morning and held out to them the incentive of being able to reject his candidates for the foreign, defence, security and interior ministries. He then entered the Congress hall and formally nominated Mr Gaidar for the premiership saying: 'For the whole world, this appointment would be a guarantee of Russia moving forward along the path of reform. Gaidar is courageous, devoted and just plain clever.'

Viktor Barannikov, Pavel Grachev and Viktor Yerin, respectively the security, defence and interior ministers, may well survive because the hardliners in Congress seem to have no particular argument with them. But they have had Mr Kozyrev in their sights for some time since he declared that Moscow should break with its past of supporting ideological allies such as Cuba and North Korea and recognise that Russia's natural friends are the developed democracies of the West.

Even the sacrifice of Mr Kozyrev may not be enough to secure the confirmation of Mr Gaidar, who enraged the deputies last week by telling them Russia had no choice but to go on taking its bitter economic medicine. Many MPs said yesterday they doubted he would get the 521 votes he needs.

If he is not confirmed, Mr Gaidar could continue as acting prime minister until the next Congress in April, but then he would be considerably weakened. Already yesterday he was signalling a retreat in one sphere when he said that domestic oil prices, which he had planned to raise, would remain below world levels for a long time to come.