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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aides, Nation Await Yeltsin's First Moves

Now that he's back at his desk, President Boris Yeltsin is likely to make some colorful gestures to show the nation that he is reasserting his authority, but most analysts believe there will be no radical changes in his team.


Yeltsin set his public agenda during the nationally televised address he made Friday, and he repeated its main elements on arriving at the Kremlin Monday morning -- namely, to deal with the unpaid wages crisis, pensions and the armed forces.


But these are huge, substantive problems that will take some time to resolve. In the shorter term, the president seems to be preparing for some theater using the Provisional Emergency Commission for Strengthening Financial and Budget Discipline, or VChK.


The VChK was set up by Yeltsin's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, who stressed to reporters Sunday that Yeltsin will preside in person over its next session, which is set for Tuesday.


The emergency commission, established to root out tax evasion, is officially headed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, with Chubais as his deputy. Chubais said the fact that Yeltsin would chair Tuesday's VChK was significant and implied that the occasion would be used to crack the whip over the state bureaucracies.


"To put it bluntly, there was some slackening off in some places," the presidential chief of staff said. "Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] takes a tough line on that."


At least one analyst believes some lower-level bureaucrats and state enterprise directors may lose their jobs during Tuesday's VChK session.


"I don't think it is coincidental that Yeltsin will begin his public activity with a session of this commission," said Andrei Piontkowsky of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Studies. "After all, Yeltsin is an old Communist Party secretary, and this is his style -- to apply administrative methods, punishing or sacking inefficient people."


Sergei Markov, of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Yeltsin's advisers have adopted a strategy of blaming "red directors" at regional enterprises for non-payment of wages and tax non-compliance. "They want him to blame the 'red directors' for all these things -- to say they don't want to pay salaries, that they want to steal money and use it for banking-financial speculation, and so on," he said. "And I think they have prepared this VChK meeting with this in mind."


Piontkowsky added that the tax commission may call for the creation of a state monopoly on the alcohol trade. During a press conference earlier this month, Chernomyrdin said this step should be taken "immediately."


But, contrary to earlier speculation, analysts said Yeltsin is unlikely to sack any key government officials.


"There will probably be insignificant personnel changes -- someone will be elevated, someone will be demoted," said Yury Korgunyuk of the Center for Applied Political Studies. "But I don't think it will involve key figures. I'm extremely doubtful that steps will be taken concerning, for example, Chubais or Chernomyrdin."


Chubais' ouster was one of the key demands made by the opposition in Russia's parliament earlier this month in return for support for the government's 1997 budget.


There is, however, no indication that the government gave in to this demand.


Markov predicted that Yeltsin would slightly curtail Chubais' authority and criticize Chernomyrdin for the wage and tax problems. Korgunyuk said there was an outside chance that Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin, who has been ill and was operated on last Friday, may get the ax.


"But if such a step is taken," he added, "it will be strictly decorative, because he will be replaced with someone very much like himself."


Finance Minister Alexander Livshitz has also been rumored for some time to be on the way out. But analysts doubted Yeltsin would fire him in the near-term because he is too useful to retain as a "scapegoat" for the future.


But the big question is how much energy Yeltsin will now have to press his agenda, an issue on which Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov attacked the president Monday.


Any such loss of energy for the political game, said Markov, would make the president more dependent on his team.


"He is tired, his health condition is definitely not so good, so he will need them more than in the past," he said.