Last Dance For Chubais, For Economy

These days, it's difficult for an economic commentator to write about anything other than the organization of the government. Remaining topics seem of little significance, if not derivative, and dependent on who in the new government will -- or will not -- decide them.


The absence of statements concerning the new structure and makeup of the cabinet of ministers can be considered last week's main event. The fact that the formation of a new government is being dragged out testifies to the problems that have arisen in the new structure of executive power.


Early last week it was still obvious to a majority of observers that former presidential administration head Anatoly Chubais is creating a government and will run it with the participation of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Chernomyrdin has been given something like Gennady Burbulis' government role in the beginning of 1992, when President Yeltsin formally ran the government and his first deputy, Burbulis, and vice premier Yegor Gaidar, practically ran the cabinet.


Everybody remembers that the difficult structure was formed because the Supreme Soviet did not want to see Gaidar as head of the government.


Associations with 1992 have sprung up also because Gaidar's power in the government, when he moved over to the seat of acting prime minster in the second half of 1992, was seriously limited. Government branches traditionally submitted directly to the president, but that was only part of the problem. The misfortune was in the fact that Yeltsin's old party friends Yury Petrov, Yury Skoko and Oleg Lobov exerted active and conservative influence on government work.


They all received important posts. In conjunction with representatives of industry branch lobbyists, these people held back market reforms, forced Gaidar and his team to pursue their goals in an indirect manner and, in essence, were made to back down -- making the process of reform very expensive and almost ineffective.


Chubais, having gone through the entire bitter experience of limited power with Gaidar and understanding its devastation better than others, could consent to the appointment only on fixed terms. These conditions were that he not split power in the government with anybody except the prime minister -- and then, not in everything. Originally, it appears, these conditions were accepted. Chubais only had to determine which of the present-day vice premiers would remain in the government and in what capacity. It was taken for granted there would be only one first vice premier.


Individual rearrangements are not so important. What is important is the fact that suddenly Chernomyrdin did not start playing into Chubais' hand and demanded the retention of his supporting people -- Vice Premiers Bolshakov, Babiyevich and several others. The reorganization of the government came to a standstill. The feeling arose that the president, who was on the verge of promising Chubais carte blanche, either rethought or gave in to someone's pressure and, as a result, is ready to deflate Chubais' proposed authority.


Chubais and his intended reorganization of the government was -- and theoretically remains -- weak, but is nevertheless the current team's chance to somehow set affairs right in the economy. This chance, to all appearances, is the last. The president's wavering can personally cost him dearly.