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Thursday, 28 May, 1998, 07:11 GMT 08:11 UK
Kiriyenko - the young reformer
Sergei Kiriyenko laughs during a parliament session before debate which sealed his position as PM
Sergei Kiriyenko was confirmed as Russia's new prime minister in April. With a vote of 251 votes for and only 25 against he won approval in the State Duma at the third and final opportunity. But who is he, and does he have the qualifications - or the clout - to tackle Russia's enormous economic and social problems? Here is BBC Russian affairs specialist Malcolm Haslett:

Sergei Kiriyenko has been in national politics less than a year. It was last May that he came to the capital, following closely in the footsteps of his previous mentor, the former governor of Nizhny Novgorod Boris Nemtsov.

Mr Nemtsov had just been appointed First Deputy Premier and Minister for Fuel and Energy, and he wanted Mr Kiriyenko, an associate from Nizhny, to be his deputy in the Energy Ministry.

Thus Mr Kiriyenko is closely associated with the so-called group of "Young Reformers" in the government, headed by Mr Nemtsov and his then fellow Deputy Premier Anatoli Chubais. In Nizhny Novgorod, Mr Kiriyenko was a businessman who had benefited from Governor Nemtsov's market reforms - first of all he was a banker and then joint owner of a small oil company.

But as Mr Nemtsov and Mr Chubais came under increasing pressure from their critics last autumn and winter, Mr Kiriyenko's standing - paradoxically - rose.

When Mr Nemtsov lost control of the Energy Ministry, Mr Kiriyenko, his trusted deputy, moved up to take over.

Then Boris Yeltsin, frustrated by the slow pace of reform, suddenly plumped for Mr Kiriyenko rather than the better-known reformers to replace the solid but cautious "centrist" premier Viktor Chernomyrdin. Mr Kiriyenko's task was clearly to instil new life into the reform programme.

Sergei Kiriyenko's main advantage is that he has made fewer enemies than Mr Chubais and Mr Nemtsov, and so is able more credibly to appeal for the opposition's co-operation in tackling Russia's severe economic and social problems. But will he get it?

The immediate reaction of most of the opposition, on hearing of Mr Kiriyenko's nomination, was very negative. As someone with little experience of high office Mr Kiriyenko was seen as a mere tool of Mr Yeltsin, someone who could not - as Mr Chernomyrdin had started to do - argue his own position.

That, of course, has been denied by both the president and by Sergei Kiriyenko. He has gone to some lengths to overcome the rather 'wimpish' image the Russian media have given him - even posing for TV in boxing gloves, sparring with a punch-bag.

His final confirmation by the Duma is certainly a major victory for him. But that vote is more due to a reluctance by deputies to see the Duma dissolved than to any respect or admiration for Mr Kiriyenko.

He therefore faces a tough task, even tougher, probably, than his predecessor Mr Chernomyrdin - who was seen in a relatively positive light by the opposition.

He needs all the aid that Boris Yeltsin - and his reformist friends - can give him in trying to sort out the problems the previous government failed to solve: raising the level of tax gathering, getting salaries to state workers in time, and persuading business to adopt higher standards of "transparency" and openness in their dealings.

See also:

24 Apr 98 | Russian crisis
24 Apr 98 | Russian crisis
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