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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Allies Say Zadornov Lacks Needed Clout

New Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov is a brilliant young economist but even his closest allies were warning Thursday that he may not have the political push to succeed in one of the Kremlin's toughest jobs.


As chairman of the State Duma's influential budget committee for two years, Zadornov, 34, has established a reputation as a liberal reformer and dynamic legislator who works 14-hour days. His colleagues were often amazed at his stamina as he regularly made the 10-hour flight between Moscow and his constituency in the Kamchatka region in the Far East.


But Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the opposition Yabloko faction in the Duma, which Zadornov quit to take up his government job, warned that he might not be ready for the ugly battles he will face in Russia's corrupt bureaucracy.


Yavlinsky said the government had chosen a good man but the Yabloko faction had "great doubts that Zadornov will be able to start paying [back] wages and pensions, resolving questions related to the budget and tax collection, changing the situation in this sphere," he said.


Zadornov's decision to join the government represents a major shift for a man who has repeatedly refused such offers in the past and has remained loyal to Yavlinsky and his Yabloko faction. In 1990, he and Yavlinsky co-authored the 500-day plan, an ill-fated package designed to liberalize the Soviet Union's command economy that was rejected by Mikhail Gorbachev. He was elected to the Duma as a Yabloko candidate in 1993.


Although Yabloko has favored a less austere financial policy and has attacked the Kremlin for corruption, Zadornov has found himself agreeing with the government in many budget debates over the past six months.


For instance, he has attacked the new tax code strongly and called on the government to increase revenue projections in the draft 1998 budget to make room for some extra spending. But he has backed the new compromise version of the budget, despite Yabloko's official rejection of it.


Explaining Zadornov's decision to join the enemy, Yavlinsky hinted that personal ambition played a role. "Everyone has the right to pursue their personal career."


Economists said Zadornov favors a tightly balanced budget and will not hike spending, which could feed inflation. "I think he will continue economic reform efforts within the government," said Pavel Teplukhin, president of asset management with Troika-Dialog bank. "He believes in market forces and in the importance of stability in the economy."


In addition, his experience as a lawmaker and contacts in the Duma will help him get next year's budget approved, commentators said.


Even Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov immediately welcomed Zadornov's appointment Thursday.


But others warned that Zadornov would be able to achieve little in his new post because he alone does not have the political clout, or the bureaucratic guile to make a difference to Russia's finances. The Finance Ministry is a notoriously precarious post and few of Zadornov's predecessors have lasted longer than six months.


"It remains to be seen if he can handle the bureaucratic issues," said Rory MacFarquhar of the Russian-European Centre for Economic Policy. "The key issue with Russia's government finance is control. ... To achieve that you need a minister who is entirely in command of his ministry, knows people at all levels and has clout with other ministries."


Alexei Zakharov, a fellow Yabloko deputy, said that Zadornov was making a big mistake because Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais would obstruct him every step of the way. "I doubt that he will be able to work productively in a government like this one," he said.