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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

If Nothing Else, Pace of Reform Should Lessen

The replacement of Yegor Gaidar by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will have at least one certain effect -- to bring to a more abrupt end the "shock therapy" elements of Russia's reform program.


Even under Gaidar, the sharp edge of monetarist, free-market solutions to Russia's problems was being blunted in recent months under pressure from political opposition and the enormity of the task.


Nothing indicates that Chernomyrdin plans to stop reforms. But without Gaidar's faith in the market to challenge the inertia of a command economy, the ruthless momentum needed for Polish-style "shock therapy" will not be there.


The switch from the "boy in pink pants" who has run Russia's economy over the past year to the gray-haired Viktor Chernomyrdin will also have enormous symbolic power.


An economist steeped in Western theories has given way to a lifetime apparatchik. A generation that was born in 1956, as Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush the democratic movement, has been replaced by someone old enough to have driven those tanks.


But it would be foolhardy to predict the extent of the change of direction that will now ensue. After all, President Boris Yeltsin, perhaps Russia's foremost anti-Communist, is 60 years old and also a lifetime Communist Party apparatchik.


Chernomyrdin has so far given mixed signs as to his plans, in keeping with his role as a compromise candidate. On Monday he said he would promote industrial production -- a coded expression of support for the more interventionist economic policies of Russia's powerful industrialist lobby.


But on Tuesday, the prime minister said that he had no intention of turning back reforms; that he would encourage "financial discipline"; and that he approved of the privatization voucher program -- three key elements of the Gaidar program.


The first sure indication of Chernomyrdin's intentions will be given when he chooses a new cabinet this week, and in particular by how many, if any, of Gaidar's economic team he keeps in place.


But ultimately, the deciding factor will be how independent he proves to be of Yeltsin.


One theory has it that Chernomyrdin was chosen because he could be manipulated by Yeltsin, a suspicion that drove Nikolai Travkin -- a legislator who has no liking for Gaidar -- to say that the Congress had made a "big mistake" by electing the industrialist.


Adranic Midranian, a political analyst, said only minutes before Yeltsin announced Chernomyrdin as his surprise choice for prime minister that this would be the wisest course.


By insisting on Gaidar, Midranian said, Yeltsin risked an ongoing and damaging dispute with the Congress. The remaining alternative, Security Council Secretary Yury Skokov, was too strong a political figure in his own right. In contrast, Midranian said, Chernomyrdrin could be controlled.


The parliament has committed itself to publish a new draft constitution by March 31 and to put it to a referendum by April 11. As the current draft does not provide for the Congres's existence, the 1, 040-member body could be forced to dissolve itself at the next session in April.


The smaller working parliament could still rewrite the draft to change that.


But if it does not, and if the parliament sticks by its commitment, Chernomyrdin's acceptance will seem a small price for Yeltsin to have paid for dissolving the disruptive and backward-looking Congress, whatever his policies.