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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Produces Complete Cabinet




After days of back-room infighting that left his prime minister politically bruised, President Boris Yeltsin rounded out the Cabinet on Monday, appointing a pro-reform economist as one of two first deputy prime ministers.


Yeltsin appointed Viktor Khristenko to the post abandoned by Mikhail Zadornov last week, and also named a deputy prime minister in charge of defense. The government was complete and ready to begin work, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin.


Yeltsin thinks "that this is a reformist government and that it is ready to get to work without delay," Yakushkin said on ORT television.


The appointments ended 11 days of confusion and speculation over the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who since being confirmed May 19 has seen his first two choices for Khristenko's job shot down by political infighting.


Looking relieved in a television appearance after meeting Yeltsin, Stepashin said that "the president has accepted my proposals" and that there would be "no more abrupt resignations."


Zadornov, chosen as first deputy in charge of finances and macroeconomics, quit suddenly Friday when Yeltsin would not let him keep his portfolio as finance minister, which he held in the government of Yevgeny Primakov, who was fired May 12.


Last Tuesday, Yeltsin had spurned Stepashin's first candidate, State Duma budget committee chairman Alexander Zhukov. Stepashin had sought a second first deputy as a counterweight to Nikolai Aksyonenko, who was foisted on him by Yeltsin. Aksyonenko, described in news media reports as the favorite of Yeltsin's inner circle, has claimed sweeping responsibilities for running the economy and seems unconcerned about upstaging Stepashin himself.


Stepashin's woes in getting his desired first deputy - and eight days of accompanying confusion about who exactly was finance minister - subjected the new prime minister to a flood of speculation that he was not in charge of his own Cabinet, which was portrayed as the plaything of powerful Kremlin clans.


Stepashin picked up a few political points Monday by winning Zadornov's appointment as the government's representative to international lending organizations, an appointment he described on television as "my personal request" to the president. Zadornov will officially have the rank of first deputy prime minister, though it wasn't clear what additional powers that conferred if any.


Yeltsin also named Ilya Klebanov, a former optics factory director and city official from St. Petersburg, to fill the new post of deputy prime minister for defense. Andrei Shapovalyants was reappointed as minister of economics, the job he held in the old Cabinet. Stepashin confirmed that the job of finance minister would go to Mikhail Kasyanov, who had been serving as first deputy head of the ministry.


The Finance Ministry appointment had been up in the air since last Tuesday, when government officials made conflicting statements about who had the job - Zadornov or Kasyanov.


Most of the two dozen Cabinet jobs, including the key portfolios of defense, foreign affairs and justice, remained with holdovers from the Primakov government.


Mondays' round of appointments followed widespread speculation in the news media that the frequently ill Yeltsin had ceded control of the government to what in political jargon is called "the family," his inner circle of advisers. Most of the reports lack identified sources, and sometimes come from news organizations owned by participants in the struggle for power.


Saturday's Kommersant newspaper headlined its story "Surrender: Yeltsin Is Not the President and Stepashin Is Not the Premier."


"The Cabinet has fallen apart," the paper wrote. "Whether Stepashin resigns after this or not, he is no longer the head of the Cabinet."


And Yevgeny Kiselyov, host of NTV's Sunday evening "itogi" news analysis show, said on air that "never before has the president's inner circle acted so openly, and, if you please, so cynically, not reckoning with anything or anyone, in pushing their people into the government."


Kiselyov said that "now, the question is asked more and more: to what extent is the president fit to make statements and decisions, to what extent does he control his inner circle - and to what extent does it control him."


"itogi", in line with other news media, identified a group of five people as those behind Aksyonenko and several other recent Cabinet appointments. They were Yeltsin's daughter and image adviser Tatyana Dyachenko; Sibneft oil company executive Roman Abramovich; financier and former government official Boris Berezovsky; presidential confidante and former chief of staff Valentin Yumashev, and Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin.


"itogi" even lumped in former Kremlin chief of staff Anatoly Chubais in with the group, saying he had reached an understanding with his enemy, Berezovsky, with whom he had been said to be feuding.


NTV, however, is controlled by Vladimir Gusinsky, another of Russia's politically-connected tycoons - who may be eager to exaggerate his rivals' influence.