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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Names His Man for Premier




President Boris Yeltsin on Friday confirmed he would nominate Sergei Kiriyenko as Russia's next prime minister and sternly warned the State Duma to approve him or face dissolution and new elections.


"Do not cause a new spiral of confrontation," said Yeltsin, scowling at television cameras after a morning meeting with Kiriyenko at the White House, the government's headquarters. "On this, I will give no slack."


Kiriyenko has been acting prime minister since Monday, when Yeltsin fired the previous prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the entire Cabinet, saying lagging economic reform needed new energy.


Television news on Friday showed Yeltsin ushering Kiriyenko into Chernomyrdin's old office in the White House and gesturing for him to sit in Chernomyrdin's old chair.


He then turned his attention to the Duma, or lower house of parliament, which under Russia's constitution must approve Kiriyenko's candidacy.


"I am not trying to frighten anyone," said Yeltsin, leaving pregnant pauses between sentences. "But just speaking as president: Don't waste time. Confirm him quickly, so a new government can be formed with a new chairman, and then forward."


Leaders of the Communists, who dominate the Duma, continued to express skepticism about Kiriyenko, saying he was an unknown quantity, but they stopped short of rejecting his candidacy.


"We again have said that this is an inexperienced person, that he does not have government experience, and a government headed by him can be only temporary," said Valentin Kuptsov, deputy leader of the Communists in the Duma. Kuptsov said party leaders would meet next week and decide what stance to take.


The Duma speaker, Communist Gennady Seleznyov, was even more flexible, saying the Duma should not permit Yeltsin to dissolve it. The president can dissolve the Duma if it rejects his nomination for prime minister in three separate votes.


Seleznyov appeared to suggest that the Duma could approve Kiriyenko, despite its misgivings, on the understanding that it was at Yeltsin's behest.


"The president has let it be known that only he answers for all the reforms," said Seleznyov. "Fine. Let the people know and understand that not the government, but only the president bears responsibility for economic and social reform."


Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko opposition group in the Duma, said he could not agree to support Kiriyenko until he offers a concrete program, which Yavlinsky said he failed to do in a meeting Friday.


He described Kiriyenko as a weak, essentially nonpolitical figure who would be a factotum for Yeltsin.


"I don't exclude that he is a very polite, cultivated, educated person," Yavlinsky said in an interview on NTV television. "But the job of prime minister of Russia and having all these qualities are not the same thing."


The Duma is scheduled to take up Kiriyenko's nomination next Friday. The possibility of dissolution means an upcoming round of confrontation and bluffing with risks for both sides, analysts said.


Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation Moscow office, said the Duma would eventually accept Kiriyenko, but would haggle for concessions.


"I think Yeltsin's remarks today alienated part of the State Duma, which doesn't want to demonstrate its complete loyalty," said Volk. "And of course the opposition would like to make this process longer to get more concessions from the government."


Both sides will stop short of forcing new parliamentary elections, he said, "because no one is sure he will be re-elected and what the balance of power will be after the election."


Currently, the Communists, who have 138 seats, can dominate the 450-member Duma in a loose coalition with the support of several smaller left-wing groups and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, which has 51 seats.


Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center said there was a chance Yeltsin was not serious about Kiriyenko and was using him as a stalking-horse for someone else.


"Many communists think the party of power is in a difficult position and think that they would win early elections," said Petrov. "It is not known, if Kiriyenko is rejected on the first vote, whether the president will propose him a second time."


Petrov outlined the following scenario: Yeltsin proposes Kiriyenko and refuses to make any concessions, without which the communists reject him. After a first refusal, Yeltsin submits another candidate who by comparison looks much more acceptable and easily wins approval.


In a morning radio address, Yeltsin said Kiriyenko, the former fuel and energy minister who joined the Cabinet only a year ago, was a fresh face without political baggage and therefore could deal with all factions.


"Kiriyenko is what is called a technocrat -- a management specialist," said Yeltsin. "He has no connections with any parties or movements. At the same time, he can carry on a dialogue with all. He is prepared to listen to the opinions of the various sides.


He rejected criticism that Kiriyenko was too young, saying, "Professionalism and energy are not determined by date of birth." Yeltsin pointed out that he had himself become head of a major construction enterprise in his hometown of Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg, when he was only 28.


Kiriyenko got cautious reviews Friday from another key political player. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov met with Kiriyenko and told him 12 issues that are of concern to the city. He praised Kiriyenko for his ability to listen and said that if his program addressed Moscow's concerns, they would be allies.


But, he said, if Kiriyenko wanted to persist in radical free-market reform, they would go their separate ways. "Then we will simply step aside, we won't interfere, but we'll just solve our own problems the way we see fit," said Luzhkov.