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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Communist Minister Could Help

If, as was being furiously rumored Wednesday, Communist State Duma Deputy Yury Maslyukov is appointed trade and industry minister, it would look at first glance like a backward step for Sergei Kiriyenko's government. And it could be if the government is not careful how it handles the new minister.

The 61-year-old Maslyukov is the classical homo sovieticus. Having risen up through the ranks of the Soviet bureaucracy, he reached the pinnacle of his career as chairman of Gosplan, the gargantuan organization whose task it was to run the command economy.

Later, as a sidekick to Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov he was the opposition's economic guru, waiting in the wings to implement his ideas if and when the Communists returned to power. The Communists' economic manifesto at the 1996 presidential elections, which he drafted, was appalling.

But Maslyukov could be just what Kiriyenko's Cabinet needs.

Since it was thrown together in April, the government has proved to be a collection of competent, earnest young men and women.

What they chronically lack though, is any kind of political network. That shows in the State Duma, where Kiriyenko's timid performances on the podium have earned him a disdainful reception from deputies.

At a time when it is coming under ever more vicious attacks from parliament, the government needs to restore some of the gravitas and political baggage that Viktor Chernomyrdin lent it as prime minister.

Short of inviting the former prime minister himself back into government, Maslyukov is the next best thing. Because of his position at the heart of the Communist Party leadership, his presence in the government would force Zyuganov and others to temper their criticism of the government for some time to come.

He himself is a good choice. Tall and imposing, Maslyukov commands considerable respect from legislators of all hues. He is a political moderate and is not given to making irresponsible pronouncements.

But there is a major caveat here. Maslyukov is still a Communist. The last card-carrying Communist in the government, Aman Tuleyev, used his position to bring Russia to the brink of a potentially disastrous union with Belarus.

Maslyukov would try and meddle in the economy, he would sign programs pouring budget money into dead-end sectors of industry, he would try to bring the economy back into state ownership.

Kiriyenko would have to make sure that he does not let the new minister out of his sight for a moment. If he can do that, Maslyukov's appointment could be a useful fig leaf for the government.