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Yeltsin Unyielding in His Choice for Premier

Russia: President talks of conciliation but insists parliament must approve Sergei V. Kiriyenko this week.

April 08, 1998|VANORA BENNETT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Although Russian politicians met Tuesday to consider Boris N. Yeltsin's shock appointment of Sergei V. Kiriyenko as his new prime minister, they were quickly told that they had no real choice but to back the little-known 35-year-old technocrat who has unexpectedly won the maverick president's favor.

Yeltsin fired the previous government March 23, thereby ridding himself of Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, his veteran former prime minister whose presidential ambitions had gradually been coming out into the open.

That stunning move caused consternation in Russia and abroad, so much so that a parliamentary debate and vote on approving the presidential appointment, originally due last Friday, were postponed. Apparently becoming more conciliatory, Yeltsin then offered lawmakers a chance to discuss his appointment at round-table talks Tuesday before they returned to debate and vote on it this Friday.

But, by Tuesday, it emerged that Yeltsin was not offering leeway to the Communist-dominated but virtually powerless parliament: As he told deputies at the round-table meeting, they could talk all day long, listen to Kiriyenko as much as they liked--but they must vote in favor of Yeltsin's man by the end of the week.

"We have spent two weeks without a government," Yeltsin said. "It is very serious, of course. If it continues, we will lose out even more. That is why I ask you to support the president."

With his trademark guffaw, Yeltsin told the 20 or so party leaders, trade unionists and lawmakers present that they should think of 1998 as a "nonconfrontational year."

"Nonconfrontational--I don't veto, you don't reject," he said. "Let's give it a try."

He also dismissed the idea of a coalition government--suggested by various parliamentary groups that say they will back Kiriyenko in a vote only if they get ministers into the new Cabinet.

"I ask you not to say ever again that I agreed to a coalition government," Yeltsin observed. "No, no, I agreed to a government of businesslike people."

His pretext for firing Chernomyrdin was that his government had done little to pay a huge backlog of state-sector wages. Yeltsin says he wants Kiriyenko to speed up economic reform, although the prime minister-designate's opponents say his youth and inexperience will put him at a disadvantage.

Trying to calm those fears, Yegor S. Stroyev, head of the upper house of parliament, said, "The present prime minister-designate's young age is not a disadvantage. . . . Combined with the experience and wisdom of other people, he can lead the economy out of crisis."

It is still unclear whether Yeltsin's tactics will have cowed or impressed deputies when they vote on Kiriyenko. Sergei V. Yastrzhembsky, Yeltsin's spokesman, looked on the bright side. "No one openly said no," he told Russian television after the round-table session. And several centrist politicians gave cautious backing.

But Communist leader Gennady A. Zyuganov said his party still planned to reject Kiriyenko. "I don't think he will get through Friday," Zyuganov said. Communists hold 138 of 450 seats in the lower house, the Duma.

Bluster though they might, however, Duma deputies have repeatedly backed down from active confrontation with the Russian president, who has the power to dismiss the parliament if it rejects his candidate three times.

Kiriyenko himself, who sat straight-backed and attentive through the proceedings, seemed confident. He told Interfax news agency after the talks that he had Yeltsin's backing to publish his planned Cabinet lineup within a week, even if the parliament fails to approve him.

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