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Wednesday, April 29, 1998 Published at 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK


Viktor Khristenko: the third reformer

Getting down to business: the new reformist-dominate cabinet meets


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The only surprise so far in the make-up of the new Kiriyenko government in Russia is the sudden elevation of a little-known reformist, Viktor Khristenko, to the post of deputy prime minister. His promotion - and the retention of fellow-reformer Boris Nemtsov at the same level - confirms the strong bias towards reformers in the economic ministries, balanced by relatively conservative figures in the other jobs. The BBC Russian Affairs Specialist Malcolm Haslett reports:

Viktor Khristenko, the new Deputy Prime Minister, now becomes one of a troika of reformers at the top of the Russian government, alongside the new Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and the other Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov.

This means that the top posts in the government, and the ministries concerned with economics, are in the hands of reformists.

The Ministry of Finance remains with Mikhail Zadornov, originally from the opposition "Yabloko" faction. And deputy premier Nemtsov has confirmed that he will retain overall control of the fuel and energy sector.

So the new government is more thoroughly reformist than the old one, where Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin represented a generation with strong links to industrial giants like Gazprom which retained many of the habits of the old Soviet era.

President Yeltsin has told the new government that it has to act "dynamically and competently" to lift the economy out of the doldrums.

He has basically given them the green light to attack the key problems besetting the Russian economy: non-payment of taxes, lack of investment from domestic and foreign sources, the lack of a clear legal framework for business, and the absence of openness [transparency] in business dealings.

At the same time President Yeltsin has balanced the "freshness" and out-and-out reformism of his economics ministers with a relative conservatism in the other ministries.

Foreign affairs, as expected, remains in the hands of the wily Yevgeni Primakov, Defence in the hands of General Igor Sergeyev. Former security chief Sergey Stepashin returns as Minister of the Interior.

None of these, however, is seen as an "arch-conservative" in the way that the former Interior Minister Anatoli Kulikov was. They are the sort of people, Mr Yeltsin clearly hopes, who will bring some reassurance to conservatives and nationalists in the population - but not go against the economic reformism of the government's general policy.

Khristenko's presidential connections

At 40, Mr Khristenko is the oldest of the three. That confirms the present bias towards youth.

He also, like the other two, comes from the provinces. Like President Yeltsin himself he is from the Urals province of Cheliabinsk, where he was a deputy governor.

And, again like Messrs Kiriyenko and Nemtsov, he is a new arrival in Moscow. He only arrived there in July, to be deputy minister of Finance.

Mr Khristenko's links appear to be with President Yeltsin himself rather than Prime Minister Kiriyenko. Before coming to Moscow he briefly worked as Mr Yeltsin's personal representative in Cheliabinsk.

Viktor Khristenko trained as an economist, and then worked as an engineer and a lecturer, before becoming deputy head of Cheliabinsk city administration and then deputy governor of the region.





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