Yeltsin hangs on to embattled deputy

The reform programme in Russia may have been threatened by a corruption scandal,

but President Boris Yeltsin appears to have found a way of saving the man who is central to his privatisation plans.

President Boris Yeltsin, seeking to end a political scandal over book fees, approved a plan yesterday under which deputy prime ministers would give up additional ministerial posts, his office said.

Critics have charged that $90,000 (pounds 55,000) in advances paid to Mr Chubais and other government officials to write a book were actually bribes. Mr Chubais and the others have denied any wrongdoing.

The Kremlin statement appeared to be a compromise that would allow Anatoly Chubais to keep his job as first deputy prime minister, but would require him to give up his post as finance minister.

While Mr Chubais and other deputy prime ministers look likely to lose some of their titles, the changes would be largely cosmetic. Mr Chubais would almost certainly remain the government's chief economic policymaker.

Meanwhile, Communists and other hard-line opposition members of parliament approved a non-binding resolution yesterday calling for Mr Chubais to be removed from all government posts. Opposition forces have said that Mr Chubais' removal is a condition for passing the 1998 budget. But Mr Yeltsin has refused the demand so far and appeared unlikely to part with Mr Chubais, a man he considers essential to his economic reform efforts.

According to senior legislators, the Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin struck a deal under which the opposition, which dominates the Duma, or lower chamber of parliament, would no longer make Mr Chubais' complete removal from the government a condition for passing the budget.

But the Duma's resolution, approved last night, indicated that many members would not be satisfied with a deal that left Mr Chubais in Mr Yeltsin's inner circle.

Mr Chubais and several associates accepted the advances for a yet unwritten book on privatisation in Russia. Seeking to suppress the furore over the payments, Mr Yeltsin dismissed three other officials who were to co-author the book.

But the President refused to accept the resignation of Mr Chubais, whom opponents accuse of selling off valuable state properties for below market prices. Mr Yeltsin said Mr Chubais' departure would have negative consequences.

Boris Nemtsov, the other first deputy prime minister, said yesterday that opposition calls for the ousting of Mr Chubais were, in fact, aiding him. "The Communists, whether they mean to or not, are helping Chubais," he said. "They have forgotten that our president does not like it at all when he is pressured, especially when the Communists do it."

- AP, Moscow