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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Cabinet Takes On a Host of Difficulties

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin opened the first session of Russia's revamped Cabinet on Thursday under rising pressure from trade unions to act quickly on mounting wage arrears.


There were also signs that still more liberals might be added to a government hierarchy now headed by proponents of economic reform, chief among them first deputy prime ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov.


"I hope the skills and experience of Anatoly Chubais will allow for a colossal positive shift [in policy]," Chernomyrdin said.


President Boris Yeltsin is banking on the abilities of Chubais and Nemtsov to get Russia's stalled economic reforms back on track. They also have the immediate task of trying to avert a nationwide strike by millions of government workers and pensioners, furious at the government's inability to pay them on time.


Protest organizers claim the government is more than 50 trillion rubles ($8.8 billion) in debt to pensioners and state employees. Union leaders say they expect 20 million protestors to take to the streets next Thursday.


The prime minister nonetheless adopted an upbeat tone, portraying his Cabinet as a unit ready for battle and willing to face tough challenges. The new team will "break free from the captivity of old approaches and old decisions," Chernomyrdin said.


A Kremlin statement to the opposition-dominated State Duma, the lower house of parliament, also chastised members for speaking "in disrespectful tones" about new Cabinet members.


Chernomyrdin is scheduled to appear before the Duma on Friday to defend the appointments of Chubais and Nemtsov. Chubais, Yeltsin's former chief of staff, is particulary hated by many Duma deputies for his role in Russian privatization, which some allege was a sell-off of valuable state property at bargain prices to a select group of bankers.


"Opinions may differ within government, but once decisions have been made, everyone must work toward their implementation like one iron fist," Chernomyrdin told his Cabinet.


Meanwhile, Russian media reports suggest Nemtsov is prepared to talk this weekend with his one-time economics mentor, Yabloko parliamentary group leader Grigory Yavlinsky, about joining forces with the government.


The Kremlin heavily courted Yavlinksy during a tumultuous week in which the Cabinet was arranged. The market-oriented economist refused to join ranks at the time because he said he did not expect to be taken seriously.


All positions in the new government will not be filled until after Yeltsin's return from Helsinki on Saturday. A senior Yabloko member told Interfax that Nemtsov and Yavlinksy -- often harshly critical of Chernomyrdin's policies -- will begin negotiations this weekend.


Though Chubais, 41, is widely regarded as a secretive, behind-the-scenes Moscow operator and is largely distrusted in the regions, one governor published a surprisingly glowing assessment of Chubais' track record.


In an article in Izvestia titled "What Does Chubais Want From Life?" Anatoly Lisizyn, a high-ranking member of the pro-Chernomyrdin Our Home is Russia organization, said Chubais is misunderstood by a people conditioned to older, Soviet-style politicians.


Chubais is "young, competent, already experienced and strong, and also devilishly smart. To our understanding, smart means sly. Sly means he knows how to cheat. By consequence, he is twice as dangerous," wrote Lisizyn, who is governor of the Yaroslavl region.


Many regional officials regard Chubais as an enemy because of his campaign to reaffirm Moscow's control over local administrations.


Lisizyn, however, said the return to power of Chubais, who was fired from the government in the furor over privatization in 1995, "is no longer a coincidence, but a clear tendency to call upon unpopular politicians to save the leader and the idea he champions but is unable to realize."