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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Delays Vote on Draft 1997 Budget

President Boris Yeltsin was reported Friday to be planning a return to work in the Kremlin on Christmas Day, five years to the day since ex-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev stepped aside and left Yeltsin in control of Russia.


The report came as Friday's long-awaited show-down over the government's proposed 1997 budget ended in a wash-out, with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov agreeing to postpone a vote on the document until next week.


Yegor Stroyev, the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament who met with Yeltsin at a dacha near Moscow, said the president was feeling "much better than before" and would be back at his desk Dec. 25 -- the day of Western, but not Russian Christmas, which is celebrated Jan. 7.


The timing of Friday's announcement carried additional significance, coming just ahead of the fifth anniversary this weekend of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha agreement, which spelled the end of the former Soviet Union and therefore of Gorbachev just days later.


Yeltsin has been away from the Kremlin since June, when he moved to his suburban dacha to prepare for heart bypass surgery. Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, had made it clear even before Friday's session that it planned reject the draft budget if it should come to a vote.


And in terms of rhetoric, Zyuganov was no more conciliatory Friday, thundering that "the state is bankrupt, the president is ill, the government is helpless and the Duma is powerless."


But in the course of Friday's session, both sides made a tactical retreat, deciding not put the budget to the vote and delaying a decision until a further plenary session of the Duma scheduled for Dec. 15.


In the meantime, the government's draft is to undergo wholesale revision, taking into account the suggestions of deputies, Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov told the chamber.


Deputies involved in the drafting of the budget were skeptical, however, that the time-out would bring the two sides any closer.


"Nothing will have changed by Dec. 15," warned Yabloko deputy and budget committee chairman Mikhail Zadornov. "I don't understand in what way the decision taken on the 15th will be any different from the decision that can be taken now," he said.


Chernomyrdin declared himself satisfied with the decision to postpone.


"Of course I would have liked to get it done today ... But I think this is not something that should be hurried," the premier told NTV Independent Television as he left the Duma. "I think this is a good proposal and I am convinced that the budget will be passed."


Meanwhile, leader of the 51-strong ultranationalist Liberal Democrats, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, performed his now-familiar U-turn, fiercely criticizing the budget and then instructing his party to vote in favor.


But it was unclear Friday precisely what version of the budget will be presented to parliament next week.


Alexander Shokhin, Duma deputy speaker and a member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction, said that Chernomyrdin had agreed to the postponement so that 11th-hour amendments suggested by the government could be written into the draft budget.


Those amendments include an extra 30 trillion rubles ($6 billion) in revenue, and a "concept for medium term economic growth," in which the government pledges to encourage investment in manufacturing and pay welfare payments on time.


But Zyuganov is asking for far more radical changes. In his address to the Duma, the communist leader said his faction would vote for the budget only on the condition that the constitution is amended to give parliament enhanced control over the executive, a fully state-funded national television channel is established, and the government commits to take on corruption.


These are all conditions to which Chernomyrdin is unlikely to agree.


According to Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, the final outcome will see the communists voting for the government's version of the budget. "[Zyuganov] is afraid that the president will dissolve parliament," Yavlinsky said.


Yeltsin's successful recuperation is already changing the parameters of the political debate in Moscow, and on Friday the president's doctors said their 65-year-old patient continues to recover well.


Professor Renat Akchurin, the surgeon who carried Yeltsin's quintuple bypass surgery Nov. 5 told Itar-Tass that "all surgical matters have been resolved -- we no longer describe him as a patient."


Stroyev also gave an upbeat account of Yeltsin's progress after meeting with him. "He told me he had lost 20 kilos, which is usual after such an operation," Stroyev was cited as saying by Interfax. But he added: "Now he has found his mobility and his energy. He looks well."


In what will be the first meeting with a foreign leader since his surgery, Yeltsin is set to hold a mini-summit with Chancellor Kohl on Jan. 4 at the presidential residence at Zavidovo, north of the capital, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told reporters.


A meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton is expected in March, although no date or venue has yet been set.