Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Kiriyenko's Duma Talk Too Aloof

Sergei Kiriyenko made a respectable enough debut Friday at the State Duma ahead of the vote on his candidacy as prime minister.

His program was economically responsible and realistic. He spoke much more coherently than his predecessor Viktor Chernomyrdin ever did. And he collected more votes than expected.

All indications are that his performance will be enough to secure his confirmation as prime minister. The deputies do not want to risk provoking Yeltsin into dissolving the Duma by rejecting his choice.

But Kiriyenko's speech in the parliament Friday was rather disappointing.

The problem was not, as the communist opposition maintains, that he failed to outline a fundamentally new approach to solving the country's problems.

The government's basic economic settings are right. The country needs a strong currency, a responsible budget and tighter control of state finances.

Nor are Kiriyenko's youth and lack of experience in government the problem. Quite the opposite. As a 35-year-old unknown, Kiriyenko is not tied either to the sclerotic Soviet bureaucracy or to the new financial oligarchies that discredited Chernomyrdin's government.

But what was desperately lacking in Kiriyenko's performance was anything that spoke directly to the people. He failed as a politician.

Although he spoke briefly of the need to address poverty and social problems, he offered basically the same technocratic, economic sludge that Chernomyrdin used to pump out on similar occasions.

Kiriyenko has repeated often that he is not setting out to make people like him. This is fine if it means he will not make unfulfillable promises and will not avoid tough decisions. Or if it means Kiriyenko is not about to start positioning himself for upcoming presidential elections.

But governments need to sell and explain their reforms. Rather than opaque observations about the dire effects of the Asian financial crisis and the drop in oil prices, Kiriyenko should have devoted the bulk of his speech to what concerns most people.

Perhaps he could not promise much on issues like wage and pension arrears, but he had a duty to explain his plans. He could have spoken about the government's other priorities in social spending on education, health and the military. Even the toughest fiscal plans have room for these.

After Chernomyrdin's boring Politburo-style lectures, Kiriyenko had the opportunity to show Russians he understands what they care about. He is still new to the job but so far he comes across as an isolated technocrat.