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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Warning Ups Stakes In Budget Standoff

CORRECTION


BOX DUMA BREAKDOWN should have listed 55 seats for for the liberal. free-market opposition, 46 of them held by the Yabloko party.








The threat that Prime Minster Viktor Chernomyrdin may resign should the State Duma vote no confidence in his government is a last-ditch Kremlin effort to force parliamentarians to compromise on the 1998 budget.


Analysts said Tuesday that President Boris Yeltsin is not ready to accept his prime minister's resignation. Rather, reports that Chernomyrdin, 59, may offer to quit were deliberately spread among lower house deputies to remind them that Yeltsin could flex his muscle and call for new elections next spring.


"This threat is one way of making the Duma think twice about what it intends to do" said Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Fond Politika think tank and member of Yeltsin's 1996 re-election team, about the no-confidence motion scheduled for a vote Wednesday.


"It is a tactical step," Nikonov said. "I don't think that Chernomyrdin is willing to change jobs, and I don't think Yeltsin is willing to part with Chernomyrdin."


The resignation of Chernomyrdin, a member of the Soviet elite when he ran the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, would come as a double blow to the Duma. First, deputies would lose the government minister whose outlook and background are closest to their own. Compared to the younger and more aggressive members of Yeltsin's team, Chernomyrdin and his go-slow approach to economic reform corresponds better with the nationalist and Communists who dominate the Duma.


Second, and more threatening from the deputies' point of view, Yeltsin might then ask them to approve a new, less palatable prime minister -- such as the hated First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, whose free-market outlook and sell-offs of state property they regard as anathema. But if they turn Yeltsin's choice down three times, the president can dissolve the Duma.


The deputies would then face a painful dilemma: approve someone they detest, or face dissolution and having to run for their jobs again. It's not clear which way they would jump, analysts say.


"Chernomyrdin is perhaps the only prime minister this Duma can possibly work with," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the INDEM think tank.


Russian commentators saw Tuesday's threat as a way for the Kremlin to convince Duma deputies that it will not stand for a repeat of last fall, when lawmakers voted down the 1997 budget and forced Yeltsin to accept an over-ambitious spending plan this spring.


"Clearly, Chernomyrdin is telling the Duma: I am convinced that we must work out this 1998 budget," NTV television said.


Should opposition lawmakers fail to pass the no-confidence motion, analysts say, it would be a blow to their prestige given their heated criticism of the government. A compromise on the budget would then seem more likely.


Significantly, the resignation threat was delivered through Deputy Alexander Shokhin, who heads the pro-Chernomyrdin Our Home Is Russia faction in parliament -- giving Chernomyrdin some room to back down and stay on should the Duma follow through on its threat.


The prime minister himself was in the Duma on Tuesday to negotiate with the communists over next year's budget. He reported progress, but carefully avoided confirming he is prepared resign.


Before the stakes were raised Tuesday, the vote was seen as a way for Communist and nationalist deputies to vent their anger with the government and redeem themselves before their constituents in Russia's poorer provinces.


"They have been threatening to do this for a very long time. Sooner or later, the Communists had to face their constituents and put this thing up for a vote," Korgunyuk said.


Communists are particularly unhappy with the 1998 budget because, they say, it unfairly cuts subsidies to the regions. Some deputies claim the government is deliberately underestimating how much money can be raised in upcoming state property auctions.


Analysts say that Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin would also prefer to avoid new elections, particularly because it is unlikely that a new Duma would be any more Kremlin-friendly than the present one. There is an element of bluffing on both sides, they say.


"The government issued a threat, but in the gentlest, most politically correct way possible" by making it through Shokhin, a fellow deputy, Korgunyuk said.


"If Yeltsin or Chubais had said what Shokhin did, the Duma would read it as a provocation and immediately vote for no confidence," Korgunyuk said.