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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Choices Still in Doubt

Although the basic outlines have been leaked, the composition of Russia's new government remained in doubt Wednesday, with officials sending out contradictory signals on whether President Boris Yeltsin had actually signed off on his prime minister's cabinet choices.

Interfax quoted the newly named presidential spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, as saying Wednesday that Yeltsin had signed several decrees on new appointments, which would be made public Wednesday or Thursday. The signings took place following a conversation between Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the news agency reported.

Later Wednesday, however, a presidential press service spokesman denied that such decrees were presented to Yeltsin, saying the president had simply "agreed" with a series of candidacies that were suggested to him.

Yeltsin appeared on NTV Independent Television, telling Chernomyrdin, "We need to finish off the appointments, do a little cleaning out."

Commersant Daily on Wednesday quoted an unnamed official in the presidential administration as saying the meeting between Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin on the cabinet's make-up had not taken place as of Tuesday because the president was "indisposed." The source said, however, that Yeltsin had already approved the candidates and the corresponding decrees were just a formality.

The new government will include four deputy prime ministers, Interfax reported, citing sources in the State Duma. Vladimir Potanin, president of Uneximbank, will handle economic issues, while senior presidential aide Viktor Ilyushin will oversee social issues. Oleg Lobov and Vladimir Kadannikov, both currently acting first deputy prime ministers, will look after the military-industrial complex and the civil industrial sector.

Meanwhile, Alexander Livshits, Yeltsin's economic adviser, will replace Vladimir Panskov as finance minister with the rank of deputy prime minister.

The probability that Potanin, Ilyushin, Lobov and Livshits will receive the new posts is "very high," the sources told Interfax, adding that the choices are ultimately up to Yeltsin and thus could not be viewed as certain until the president signs corresponding decrees.

Mikhail Zadornov, head of the Duma's budget committee who was widely discussed as a possible candidate for one of the deputy prime minister posts, was quoted by Commersant Daily as saying the appointments of Potanin and Livshits were already a certainty, and that the finance minister's portfolio will be widened to include control over hard currency exports and the tax and customs services.

Commersant Daily, citing government sources, wrote that Ilyushin's appointment was still uncertain.

The new government, according to Russian law, must be named by Aug. 31, and was widely expected to have been unveiled earlier this week, following Chernomyrdin's confirmation as prime minister by the Duma last weekend.

According to press reports last month, a working group set up to make recommendations on the structure of the new government recommended reducing the number of ministries dealing with the economy, with a corresponding 30 to 40 percent reduction in the size of the government apparatus. It also reportedly pushed for reducing the number of first deputy prime ministers to two -- one dealing with the economy, the other with social questions.

Izvestia reported Wednesday that the number of federal agencies will be reduced from 90 to 60.

But the number of first deputy prime ministers is unlikely to fall. Commersant Daily reported that Potanin, Livshits and Ilyushin will each hold that title. Lobov and Kadannikov are also tipped to hold on to their current status.

"I think that the main problem of the government is how to reduce the number of first deputy prime ministers, because I'm afraid we will have more first deputy prime ministers than deputy prime ministers," said Vladimir Mau of the Institute for the Economy in Transition.

Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said Wednesday that the process of structuring the new government has amounted to nothing more than the "transfer of bureaucrats from the presidential administration to the government and vice versa."

The result, he told a news conference, will be "a one-party government of functionaries-apparatchiks," Interfax reported.