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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President To Target Economy In Speech




President Boris Yeltsin will focus on Russia's troubled economy in his state-of-the-nation address Tuesday, but he won't herald a government shake-up as he did in last year's message.


Asked Monday by an ORT television journalist if Cabinet ministers should fear for their jobs as a result of tomorrow's speech, Yeltsin said, "No," and that the speech would include "analysis, but not consequences."


"It will be interesting -- you should attend," Yeltsin said during televised remarks at a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in the Kremlin.


More than half the speech, titled "With Joined Forces: Toward the Growth of Russia," deals with economics, Interfax reported Monday, citing an unidentified Kremlin source.


The source was quoted as saying work would continue "up to the last minute" on the 30-minute televised speech that Yeltsin is scheduled to deliver at 11 a.m. in the Kremlin to the upper and lower houses of the legislature.


The government has predicted that 1998 will be a breakthrough year, with 2 to 4 percent economic growth, although the Central Bank predicts zero percent to 1 percent growth because of the aftershocks from Asia's economic turmoil. In 1997, the economy grew by a bare 0.4 percent after declining from 1989 to 1996, according to official statistics.


The Kommersant Daily newspaper reported last week that early drafts had Yeltsin criticizing his ministers, as he likes to do, and pushing administrative reforms such as a vaguely defined system of state service based on merit. But newspapers reported over the weekend that Yeltsin on Friday sent his speech drafters, headed by chief of staff Valentin Yumashev, back to the drawing board.


Yeltsin "raised the standard on questions of style and emphasis," presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky was quoted as saying by the Segodnya daily in its Monday edition.


The 1993 Russian Constitution requires Yeltsin to annually inform the legislature "about the condition of the country and the fundamental directions of the domestic and foreign policy of the state."


In last year's address, delivered March 6, Yeltsin berated his government for "growing fat" in his absence and signaled his return to the political center stage after eight months of inaction because of heart surgery and subsequent pneumonia.


That address ushered in a new push for his stalled economic program spearheaded by Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, two young reformers brought into the Cabinet a few days later as first deputy prime ministers.


Now, Chubais and Nemtsov, battered by opponents in the State Duma and Russia's business community, have seen their political stock fall. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who favors a slower path to capitalism, is seen as having gained influence.


Having recently stripped Chubais and Nemtsov of some of their duties, Yeltsin has just reshaped his government and is not likely to do so again now, several observers said.


Vladimir Ryzhkov, who heads the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction in the Duma, parliament's lower house, said Monday that "the personnel issue does not top Russia's current agenda."


"If there is some personnel shuffle, this will only be moving one or another official to some other position," he was quoted as saying by Interfax. "No personnel revolution should be expected."


By demoting but not firing the two young reformers, "Yeltsin has achieved a new balance in the government that I think suits him," said political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov of the Fond Politika think tank.


Nikonov said the speech is likely to be a fuller explanation of what Yeltsin intends for the coming year, following the unveiling of a 12-point plan submitted by Chernomyrdin on Jan. 26. That plan includes most of the government's obvious to-do list, such as getting tax reform through the Duma and restructuring the bloated and impoverished armed forces.


"I don't think the message will mean a sharp change in policy," Nikonov said. "I would tend to expect continuity, a moderate course, rather than a revolutionary one."


Yeltsin faces an economic test Wednesday as his much-delayed budget for 1998 faces its fourth and last reading in the State Duma. The vote is usually considered a formality during which only technical changes are permitted, but Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov promised it would be more than that.


"Fourth reading is not just a linguistic review, it's also a very full agenda," said Seleznyov. The deputies allotted Thursday to deal with the budget in case debate runs over.


Once past the Duma, the budget goes to the Federation Council and to Yeltsin for his signature.