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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiriyenko Steps Onto World Stage

Acting Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko appeared closer to becoming the full-fledged head of government Wednesday, winning support from two powerful figures and stepping onto the world stage at a summit with the French and German leaders.

Kiriyenko, unexpectedly appointed Monday to the post on an interim basis after President Boris Yeltsin fired his entire Cabinet, was given the job of greeting French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl when they arrived Wednesday evening at Sheremetyevo Airport.

The summit is giving foreign leaders their first look at Kiriyenko, a little-known former oil executive who came to Moscow from Nizhny Novgorod in March 1997 as deputy fuel and energy minister and moved up to minister rank in November.

Initially, many observers dismissed Kiriyenko, 35, for his youth and short tenure in the Kremlin. He admits he was notified of the appointment only Monday morning, shortly before the rest of the country heard.

But his chances of being nominated to replace the dismissed Viktor Chernomyrdin appeared to grow with endorsements from the politically connected billionaire Boris Berezovsky and from leading reformist politician and dismissed First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.

Nemtsov, who has warned about the influence of so-called financial oligarchs including Berezovsky, expressed support for Kiriyenko, implying the acting premier could serve as a compromise figure satisfactory to both free-market reformers, such as Nemtsov, and big business.

Nemtsov was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying Kiriyenko would be the nominee and that most of Yeltsin's economic reform team would be offered new jobs in the new Cabinet. Nemtsov also said he expects to remain on as first deputy prime minister, the Journal reported.

Berezovsky, who some observers think played a role in Chernomyrdin's dismissal, also praised Kiriyenko and called his appointment "indubitably better than what we had up until today," the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

"Is he ready to become prime minister? I think not. Can he become the prime minister? I think so," Berezovsky was quoted as saying.

Berezovsky said the government was ready for new people in a television interview Sunday, the day before Yeltsin fired the government. Berezovsky denies having a hand in Yeltsin's decision, although he applauded it as the correct one.

In firing the cabinet, Yeltsin said it was the pace, not the direction, of government work that dissatisfied him, and that the move "does not mean any change in the course of our politics." Yeltsin's move also appears calculated to have impact on the race to succeed him as president, although just how has not become clear.

He appeared to push Chernomyrdin toward running for president, saying the former prime minister was to concentrate on political preparations for the parliamentary elections in 1999 and presidential elections in 2000. But he did not explicitly endorse him.

Kiriyenko, who worked with Nemtsov when Nemtsov was governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, would appear to be a more reform-oriented premier than Chernomyrdin, who favored a slower transition to capitalism.

Kiriyenko got a noncommittal review from opposition figure Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, after meeting with him Wednesday.

"We heard his proposal, but we can't draw any conclusions because he does not have full information about the situation in areas other than the one he's worked in," Zyuganov said.

"Work is progressing well, but let's not discuss it discuss it until it's done," Kiriyenko said as he left the meeting. "I have to come up with a government plan of action, and to refine the tasks and missions of the government we need consultations withall economic and political forces in society."

Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov has gone as far as to ask Yeltsin to come up with a new nominee for prime minister, Interfax reported Wednesday.

"Seleznyov asked the president's chief of staff ... to tell the president it would be desirable to propose ... another candidate to the Duma, because [Kiriyenko] does not have enough experience," the report said.

Under the constitution, Yeltsin has two weeks from the date of the government's dismissal to propose a new one to the State Duma. The Duma has a week to vote. If it rejects Yeltsin's nominee three times, Yeltsin can dissolve it and new elections would be held.

That would leave open the prospect of months of renewed political warfare between the Kremlin and the leftist opposition, although several observers say the Duma is unlikely to let Yeltsin dissolve it since elections might threaten the position of its leading parties.

The dismissed ministers are continuing in their jobs temporarily, except for Chernomyrdin, former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, and former Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, whose dismissals were effective immediately.

Chirac and Kohl are to get a first-hand account of the recent changes from Yeltsin himself at their summit, scheduled to take place Thursday at the Bor government residence outside of Moscow.

But the summit was not likely to result in any substantial agreements, according to Konstantin Eggert, deputy foreign editor of Izvestia newspaper.

Eggert said the main beneficiaries would be Kohl and Chirac, who get a chance at trying to better understand the upheaval in Moscow.

But Kremlin officials were pumping the summit as part of Yeltsin's effort to create a new security arrangement for Europe in which Germany, France and Russia would take a lead.

"A new political reality in Europe will emerge Thursday," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.

Eggert said, however, that there was little chance Russia could drive any sort of wedge between Europe and the United States, as the president implied in his October speech in Strasbourg, France. In that speech, Yeltsin called for Europe to take care of its own security affairs without outsiders -- an implicit criticism of the United States.

"All these crazy ideas are dreamed up within the presidential administration and to some extent the Foreign Ministry, and they are hastily cooked for domestic consumption so as to support the current foreign policy line, which can be characterized pretty much as anti-American," Eggert said.