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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberals' Departures Spark U.S. Concern


WASHINGTON -- The United States called on President Boris Yeltsin on Wednesday to reaffirm his commitment to reform following the resignation of several key liberals in his government in recent days.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said it was "certainly significant" that reformers Sergei Filatov, who was Yeltsin's chief of staff, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais had all quit.

The spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said the most important of these was Chubais, who had done "a brilliant job in organizing a massive privatization effort over the last couple of years.

"As we try to think about the ramification of these resignations and specifically that of Mr. Chubais, we think it is absolutely essential that President Yeltsin and Prime Minister [Viktor] Chernomyrdin reaffirm the reform basis of the Russian government," Burns told a news briefing.

Burns said the message to Chernomyrdin, who will visit the United States later this month, "will be: Maintain the reforms and you will maintain with it Western support for those reforms."

Burns' comments were the first public signs of concern in Washington over the Russian government changes, although in private officials have been voicing alarm for some days.

But Burns said the changes did not necessarily mean that reforms were over. The resignation of Yegor Gaidar and Boris Fyodorov two years ago had raised similar fears, but Chernomyrdin had carried reform forward, he said.

Chernomyrdin "remains the prime minister of Russia. President Yeltsin remains the president of Russia, and we're going to look at the actions of this government and hope very much that reform will continue," the spokesman said.

Burns said key signs would be if Russia adheres to its budget, if Moscow continued to meet its obligations to the IMF, the World Bank, and Western governments on continuation of economic reforms, and if privatization carried on.

"We'll be cheering them on, if they can continue those reforms, and they'll see that the West is a good partner, that the West will respond with our end of the bargain with significant financial assistance," Burns said.

Outside the administration, several U.S. experts on Russia described the latest events as a significant change of course by Yeltsin. Some attributed it to the influence of his security chief, Lieutenant General Alexander Korzhakov.

Anders ?slund, a Swedish economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and a former adviser to the Russian government, connected the personnel shake-up to a political struggle between Chernomyrdin and Korzhakov. He said both Filatov and Chubais were dismissed because they supported Chernomyrdin against Korzhakov.

"We are seeing an offensive by the people around Korzhakov," said ?slund, who is close to the reformers. "They are on the offensive physically in Chechnya, and politically in Moscow."

Several independent experts said Yeltsin appeared to be shifting toward more authoritarian policies in response to last December's election returns, which demonstrated the lack of popular support for the reformers. Former State Department adviser Charles Gati described Yeltsin as a "semi-autocrat" who had little in common with the politician who led the struggle for democracy in Russia in 1991 and stood up to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"The problem with the administration is that it has not prepared itself mentally for the rise of an authoritarian Russia," said Gati, a political adviser to the money-management firm, Interinvest. "It still thinks it is dealing with a fledgling democracy."

Paul Goble, a leading U.S. authority on nationalities issues in Russia, said the Bush and Clinton administrations had made the mistake of "embracing first Gorbachev and now Yeltsin too tightly." He said the use of force against the Chechens, whose hostage-taking last week has resulted in escalated fighting with Russian troops, was likely to trigger further violence over the coming weeks, with Chechens staging terrorist attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the Russian government becoming increasingly authoritarian in response.