Revitalised Yeltsin welcomes free-market whizzkid into fold

Reformer wins Cabinet spot, but grumbles ahead of summit with Clinton
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Boris Yeltsin yesterday lived up to his vow to introduce fresh reformist blood into his government by appointing one of Russia's most influential and youthful regional governors to high office.

The elevation of 37-year-old Boris Nemtsov is evidence that the revitalised President is embarking on his delayed second term with the apparently genuine intention of accelerating Russia's patchy economic reforms.

Although the move will be welcomed in the West, applause will have been muffled yesterday as Mr Yeltsin also gave a prolonged television interview ahead of Thursday's Helsinki summit with Bill Clinton, in which the two presidents will seek to resolve their many differences over Nato expansion.

In it, Mr Yeltsin grumbled about Washington's treatment of Moscow on several fronts, suggesting it had failed to advance its membership to international organisations and was slow to invest in Russia. "I don't want a return to the Cold War, I don't want it and our people don't want it," said Mr Yeltsin, "But for that there must be equal conditions in the world order."

Mr Nemtsov's new job will be that of First Deputy Prime Minister, a post which appears to be on level footing with his fellow economic reformer Anatoly Chubais as number two in the Russian government under Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Prime Minister. His appointment comes after days of speculation about Mr Yeltsin's cabinet reshuffle, which appears to be proving extremely tricky. Yevgeny Kiselyov, a top TV commentator with close links to the Kremlin, has described it as "the toughest cabinet negotiation

The arrival in government of Mr Nemtsov - seen by many as the whizzkid of free market reforms - may also herald a confrontation with Mr Chernomyrdin, a former gas industry executive whose power base is rooted in the mighty energy sector. Mr Nemtsov's brief covers social welfare, but it also includes overhauling government monopolies, including gas and electricity. Mr Chubais, meanwhile, will also be Finance Minister.

Mr Nemtsov has been tipped as material for high office - possibly eventually the presidency - for several years. After becoming governor in Nizhny Novgorod in 1991, he has steadily risen to national stature; when he visited London recently, Cabinet ministers were willing to meet him. Under the Soviet Union, Nizhny Novgorod was a closed city called Gorky, where the dissident Andrei Sakharov spent years in exile. Mr Nemtsov is credited with severing it from its Communist legacy.

Although he has strong democratic credentials, he - like Mr Chubais - has proved himself capable of an iron pragmatism when the need arises. Several years ago, he fell out with Nizhny Novgorod's mayor, another reformer. Local elections, which the mayor was certain to win, were abruptly cancelled. Shortly after the mayor was fired by Boris Yeltsin. Mr Nemtsov's position close to the pinnacle of power will do nothing to assuage the fury of the Communists and nationalists in parliament, who are fuming over the rise of their bete-noir, Mr Chubais, whose hated for his role in Russia's privatisation.

Several other more powerful noses may also be out of joint; Mr Nemtsov's first suggestion in office was that government officials should be banned from using imported cars, depriving them of their beloved Rolls Royces and Mercedes.

Nor is the neo-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky likely to be rejoicing; in one celebrated incident, he threw a glass of orange juice in Mr Nemtsov's face during a TV debate, only to have the compliment briskly returned.