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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernomyrdin Fails to Wow Davos Forum

The World Economic Forum, which ended in Davos last week, was the second premiere for Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Exactly one year ago Boris Fyodorov, who had just been appointed finance minister, convinced Chernomyrdin to go to the Davos forum. Fyodorov understood perfectly well the reaction that the change in prime ministers in December 1992, had provoked in Western politicians.

Chernomyrdin, having taken Yegor Gaidar's place as head of the Russian government, had been greeted with justified caution. He had to try in the shortest possible time to convince the greatest possible number of people that reforms would continue even after Gaidar had left.

This year the situation was almost a mirror image of last year's. Gaidar had once again just left the government, and Chernomyrdin was faced with the same task: to convince the world that the changes in the makeup of the government would not cause changes in economic policy.

But this time it took much stronger arguments. It was not just Gaidar this time -- Boris Fyodorov, who had demonstrated over his year in the cabinet his firm and consistent commitment to monetarist policies, had also left the government. Both had left because of the internal workings of the government. Both had announced this publicly: They could not agree with the government's course.

At the press conference with which Chernomyrdin launched his public presence at the forum, reporters naturally asked why he was supporting Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko. This question seemed to irritate the prime minister so much that he, like a typical Soviet boss, used the familiar "ty" form of address to the American who asked the question.

Another sore point for Chernomyrdin was his very strange statement that he planned to fight inflation with non-monetarist policies. When one well-known Russian politician, who met with Chernomyrdin in Davos, asked the prime minister to explain what he had meant by the statement, one of those present from Chernomyrdin's group answered: "That shall remain a secret."

Chernomyrdin's advisers and experts managed to convince him not to mention the "non-monetarist methods of fighting inflation" in his speeches. Moreover, in his speech at the plenary session he spoke so much about the necessity of fighting inflation that firm market advocates, who had prepared themselves for an attack, were taken aback.

If the prime minister had listened to another piece of advice given to him in Davos by one of his advisers to thank Gaidar and Fyodorov publicly for their work in the government, he would probably have won over his opponents. But Chernomyrdin lacked the generosity of spirit and views to say a few words about his former deputies.

In spite of Chernomyrdin's public promises not to allow hyperinflation, many Western experts and business people reacted with great skepticism to his statements. Remarks were overheard to the effect that the prime minister's speech was too reminiscent of old-style Soviet speeches to be taken seriously. Besides this, the majority of Western politicians and businessmen who are interested in Russia have turned out to be well enough informed about the program of support for Russian agriculture, costing 34 trillion rubles, to be able to evaluate the economic policies of the cabinet now that Gaidar and Fyodorov have left.