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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Premier Thwarted in Cabinet Choice

New Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin ran straight into problems on Thursday when he started trying to form a government.

Centrist economist Alexander Zhukov rejected an offer to become a deputy prime minister and the liberal opposition Yabloko party again said it would not be lured into the Cabinet.

Stepashin faces the tough task of satisfying the requirements of President Boris Yeltsin, who legally has the final say on the government lineup, and fending off rival political and business groups who are lobbying for places in the team.

"The work is going on in corridors, under the carpet and based on internal Kremlin intrigues," Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky told reporters. "There's nothing you can do about it. It's all futile."

Although former Yabloko member Mikhail Zadornov is widely expected to retain his post as finance minister, Yavlinsky made clear his party as a whole wanted to distance itself from the government.

Zhukov, head of the lower house of parliament's budget committee, said he would accept a place in the Cabinet only if he had the more influential rank of a first deputy prime minister and there was a real chance of unity.

"I repeat that a team of like-minded people must be formed, which can agree on a program and bring the country out of crisis," Zhukov said.

The jostling over Cabinet positions mainly focuses on the top economic management positions, with most ministers expected to keep their jobs, including Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, in charge of social welfare.

Two leading leftists in former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's Cabinet are on the way out: top economic policy-maker Yury Maslyukov, a Communist, and Agrarian Gennady Kulik, deputy prime minister for agriculture.

Yeltsin, 68, kept out of sight as the horse-trading began. He missed a meeting Tuesday with Spain's prime minister and television pictures of him meeting Stepashin on Wednesday carried no sound, although aides deny rumors that he is ill.

Stepashin was confirmed in office by a comfortable margin Wednesday by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

The vote averted a standoff in which the Duma could have been dissolved and ended a tense week in which the president sacked the cautious Primakov and a bid by the chamber to start impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin failed.

Stepashin has up to 10 days to form a government. He has not named any members yet but has said his team and its policies will not differ much from Primakov's.

He chaired a meeting of outgoing ministers Wednesday and said a government committee of regional governors and economists would be formed to improve economic planning.

"Why is it that every year we hold emergency discussions on paying holiday money to public sector employees or on rivers freezing over?" Itar-Tass quoted him as saying. "Let's stop flying by the seat of our pants."

Russian newspapers said Stepashin faced a problem asserting any independence from Yeltsin. The daily Vremya said: "It is possible the prime minister's first disappointment will be the feeling of limited independence."

Some newspapers said Stepashin had already been given "a cold shower" in Wednesday's talks with Yeltsin, suggesting the president had just told him who he wanted in the new government.

Other media said two rivals, businessman Boris Berezovsky and liberal economist Anatoly Chubais, were battling for influence behind the scenes and the victor would be determined by which of their favored candidates were in the new Cabinet.

Government sources say Nikolai Aksyonenko, a former railways minister, is likely to be a first deputy prime minister responsible for most financial and economic policy.

Interfax quoted financial sources as saying reform-minded Pyotr Aven, head of Alfa Bank, could be named as a special presidential representative for relations with the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions.