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Friday, March 27, 1998 Published at 18:30 GMT

World: Analysis

How devious is President Yeltsin being?
image: [ President Yeltsin makes it plain that Sergei Kiriyenko is his choice ]
President Yeltsin makes it plain that Sergei Kiriyenko is his choice

In a short radio address, Russia's President Boris Yeltsin has named acting Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko as his choice to take over the job permanently. And he's challenged the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to approve Mr Kiriyenko or face dissolution. Was this - the dissolution of the present Duma - what Mr Yeltsin wanted to do all along? BBC analyst Malcolm Haslett:

From the moment that Boris Yeltsin announced the dismissal of the Chernomyrdin government on Monday, many Russians saw it as a showdown with the Duma.

The directly-elected lower house of the Russian parliament is dominated by the opposition - Communists and nationalists - and has been a constant thorn in Mr Yeltsin's side.

But it had tolerated the stolid and rather conservative Mr Chernomyrdin.

In his radio address the President paid warm tribute to Mr Chernomyrdin's work as premier: "We worked together for nearly six years," he declared.

"And we overcame more than one crisis together, shoulder to shoulder, and I never had a shadow of doubt that he was a reliable and loyal companion."

Though Chernomyrdin always presented himself as a reformer, the opposition understood that his views were much less radical than those of his two deputies, Anatoli Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, the so-called "young reformers".

Chernomyrdin's replacement by anyone more radical, therefore, was liable to meet with opposition in the Duma, and so it has proved.

Up to three times

The Duma has the right to reject the President's nominee for the premiership up to three times.

After that the President has the option of dissolving the Duma and calling new elections. This is now what Mr Yeltsin has threatened to do.

But Mr Kiriyenko is only 35 and has been in the government for less than a year.

That's why some observers think Mr Yeltsin is not really serious about him as a prime minister, that it's all a ploy to make it difficult for the Duma to accept him - and so bring about its own dissolution.

Mr Yeltsin, however, said that his relative inexperience did not matter:

"The age of the ministers who will work in the new government does not play a crucial role," he stated.

"You can have good ministers at 30 and at 70. What is important is that a person knows his job, has fresh ideas and original approaches, and can firmly and resolutely strive to achieve the tasks given to him."

And even if it has been Mr Yeltsin's aim all along to force a dissolution of the Duma, would new elections necessarily mean a more compliant Duma? Not necessarily, given the mood of the country.

The Chernomyrdin alternative theory

So others tend to see the nomination of Mr Kiriyenko in another light. They think that Chernomyrdin was dismissed because he had been building up his own standing, possibly with the help of powerful financiers like Mr Boris Berezovsky, with a view to replacing Yeltsin's political dominance with his own.

So Yeltsin, this theory goes, got rid of Chernomyrdin and has deliberately nominated as his successor a 'lightweight', someone who's no threat to Yeltsin's dominance.

Whatever the truth, Sergei Kiriyenko clearly faces a difficult task, as Boris Yeltsin himself underlined:

"I have already warned Kiriyenko that he doesn't have time to get into the swing of things. The social issues which have been neglected must be solved urgently.

"We must not allow the wage debts to pile up. This year must become for us a year of economic decisions, a year of an upsurge for Russia's industry. That's the task we have set and it must be fulfilled."

The ball is now in the Duma's court. Some members may feel the wisest course will be to approve Mr Kiriyenko, and then harass his government just as it harassed Mr Chernomyrdin's.

The alternative is to call Mr Yeltsin's bluff and accept new elections, hoping the electorate will return an even more anti-Yeltsin Duma.

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