Since joining the Gaidar Cabinet as a deputy prime minister last May, Chernomyrdin has voiced general support for reforms while criticizing the pace of the policy he was supposed to carry out--a gradual liberalization of oil and gas prices.
He presided over his first Cabinet meeting Monday night but offered no details of his program or the composition of his government team. But, in an interview with the Itar-Tass news agency, he hinted at stronger protection for long-pampered industries that cannot yet survive free competition with imports.
But some economists warned that the new minister could do little to broaden the selected state subsidies that Gaidar had reluctantly accepted in recent months as necessary to revive the energy, food production and transport sectors and to help arms factories convert to civilian production.
"If Chernomyrdin tries to bail out the whole economy, he is doomed to fail," said Andranik Migranian, an adviser to Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Economic Relations. "There's simply not enough money."
Gaidar's demise might also mean the dismissal of Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, whom the Congress lambasted as too friendly to the West; Administration officials in Washington on Monday expressed concern about his political survival. Under a measure approved by the Congress, Chernomyrdin's choice for that post must be approved by the smaller standing legislature, the Supreme Soviet.
Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, the abrasive Speaker of Parliament who has become Yeltsin's nemesis, declared in closing the session that Congress had "established itself as the supreme organ of state power."
Yeltsin's most radical supporters in the legislature revolted against his retreat from Gaidar, saying they might go into opposition.
Father Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest and pro-reform deputy, predicted: "There will be an attempt to return to the planned distribution economy. This will make the inflation rate higher and stop Western aid. It will be a slow strangulation of all reform and a sliding back to the Communist past."
Yeltsin spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov played down the new prime minister's differences with Gaidar, calling Chernomyrdin "a sober-minded politician . . . of neutral, moderate and balanced opinions."
Times staff writer Doyle McManus in Washington and Andrei Ostroukh of the Times Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.