Yeltsin under two-pronged attack by foes: Sacking of minister and rouble chaos add to sense of disarray

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The Independent Online
RUSSIA'S conservative legislature launched a two-pronged attack on President Boris Yeltsin yesterday, rallying to the defence of his sacked security minister and tarring his government with blame for a fiasco over reform of rouble banknotes.

In the vanguard of what seems a co-ordinated campaign to capitalise on mounting disarray in the cabinet was the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, a parliamentary leadership group stacked with implacable foes of Mr Yeltsin and the more reformist wing of his government.

The presidium, chaired by Ruslan Khasbulatov, accused Mr Yeltsin of overstepping his authority when he sacked Viktor Barannikov as head of the Security Ministry, successor to the KGB, on Tuesday for incompetence in his handling of patrols by Russian troops along the Tajik-Afghan border, and ethical improprieties involving accusations of nepotism.

Parliament also moved to undo the rouble reform scheme and shift blame on to the government, declaring that all limits on the exchange of rouble notes must be abolished and ordering all shops to accept old notes. But as with most decisions, taken by either the President or parliament, it remains to be seen whether the declaration will carry any weight. Interfax news agency quoted a presidium member, Vladimir Lisin, as saying parliament would investigate responsibility for the currency plan and 'bring to account' those responsible.

Parliament itself went into recess last Friday after passing a string of resolutions that, if ever implemented, would double the budget deficit, hobble privatisation, poison relations with Ukraine, jail at least one of Mr Yeltsin's inner circle and cashier the Interior Minister. Yesterday's moves by the presidium fit the same pattern of giddy belligerence.

Last week's onslaught by parliament was followed on Saturday by a hugely unpopular decree by the Central Bank declaring all rouble notes printed before 1993 invalid. Mr Yeltsin cut short his holiday and rushed back to Moscow on Sunday.

The monetary reform has driven a sharp wedge deep into government, widening a split between the Finance Minister, Boris Fyodorov, a Western-oriented reformer who used to work for the World Bank, and the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, a more cautious, though generally respected, Soviet energy industry apparatchik.

Mr Fyodorov, who was in the United States when the rouble reform was announced, yesterday demanded the resignation of the chairman of the Central Bank, Viktor Gerashchenko. 'How long can he experiment with the people, deceive the people, conduct experiments not based in theory and use Stalinist methods to manage the economy?' he asked at a news conference. Mr Chernomyrdin, however, stuck to his earlier position that the decision to cancel old notes was 'in principle correct'.

Mr Yeltsin has already ordered changes allowing more time to exchange notes, and nearly trebling the ceiling on the amount that can be changed - but still only about pounds 66.