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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Takes Podium at Davos

Just days after Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin went to Switzerland to quell doubts about Russian economic progress, opposition and regional leaders took the Davos stage with urgent warnings that the government introduce new reforms or be replaced.


Chernomyrdin's speech to the World Economic Forum on Thursday urging Western investors to "go East" was followed over the weekend by more pessimistic appraisals of the Russian economy.


"If this government cannot [restore order], then another government will do it," Boris Nemtsov, the powerful governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, said during a discussion on the theme of "Russia's place in the world," according to Agence France Presse.


Nemtsov urged the elimination of social benefits inherited from the communist era, such as the entitlement of 1 million residents in his region to free public transport and to extremely low-cost water, electricity and gas, the news agency reported.


"When everyone has advantages, then no one has them," he said, calling for "selective aid" for the needy.


During his Davos presentation, Chernomyrdin touted Russia's much-reduced inflation, down to 21 percent in 1996. But other Russian representatives lamented the social cost.


Alexander Shokhin, deputy speaker of the Duma, linked the government's efforts to stem inflation to its chronic wage and pension arrears.


"We are about two years late in implementing reforms because we got too carried away by macroeconomic problems," Shokhin said at a press conference Monday after his return from Davos.


Undermining the government's reform program is its lack of "social and political support," he said, explaining that the nonpayment of wages and pensions alienated those who should support and benefit from these reforms most.


Shokhin, echoing Nemtsov, suggested that subsidies be reoriented to the very poor and that the government "stop subsidizing the high-income bracket of the population by way of universal subsidies that are enjoyed by all sections of the population without exception."


Shokhin said he told Davos participants that the Duma is preparing a list of economic sectors to be closed to foreign investment starting this year.


"Such lists also exists in other countries; this is no invention of ours," he said, pointing to the United States.


Arms production, navy construction and the nuclear industry will be completely closed to foreigners, and the insurance sector will be closed temporarily. Some sectors, such as those linked to the exploitation of natural resources, will remain under state control, with limits on the percentage of stakes foreigners can buy.


Opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky, addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the forum, predicted there would be political turmoil in Russia by the end of the year, according to Agence France Presse.


Yavlinsky said that while he hoped President Boris Yeltsin would complete his mandate, which runs until 2000, a new government should be put in place and the constitution amended to deal with the succession issue.