Chubais Appointed Deputy Prime MinisterBy David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 8 1997; Page A18
President Boris Yeltsin appointed Anatoly Chubais as first deputy prime minister today, shifting his liberal chief of staff to a key position overseeing Russia's day-to-day economic and government affairs.
The appointment, which underscores Yeltsin's determination to launch a reformist second term, returns Chubais, 41, to a post he held until early last year, directly under Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The announcement came a day after Yeltsin vowed to reinvigorate Russia's troubled transition to free markets, which stalled during the presidential campaign last year and during Yeltsin's subsequent long illness.
Yeltsin made no comment on the appointment, which his press service announced in a terse statement that also said Chubais has been relieved of his chief-of-staff post. There is a major difference in the positions. In his previous post, Chubais ran Yeltsin's sprawling support staff but was not directly responsible for the government. Now, he will have a dominant voice in government policy, supervising agencies and ministries. Several other deputy prime ministers, as well as cabinet officials, are expected to be fired as part of a broader government shake-up.
The Chubais appointment was announced tonight after many politicians had left for a long holiday weekend, perhaps to deflect criticism of Chubais, a favorite target of nationalists and Communists. But some wasted no time in blasting the selection.
Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, the largest faction in the lower house of parliament, said the appointment was "a mockery of common sense and of all citizens impoverished by privatization."
Chubais headed Russia's massive privatization program in the early years of Yeltsin's reform program. It was the largest transfer of state property to private hands in history, and while it rapidly shifted huge factories and enterprises out of the state's control as the new market economy was getting started, many Russians saw it as a giveaway of the national wealth to a despised, elite few.
Chubais has been deeply unpopular ever since. Gennady Seleznev, the speaker of the lower house, said Chubais had "deceived millions of people" with his promise -- not fulfilled -- that privatization vouchers that every Russian received eventually would be worth enough to purchase a new car.
Despite the criticism, however, Chubais also has proven himself a survivor, remaining in high government positions for all but a few months since the collapse of the Soviet Union five years ago. He is widely viewed as the direct opposite of the Soviet apparatchik -- cool and analytical, teetotaling and ruthless, he was ridiculed on the pages of Moscow's most popular newspaper last year because he brought a laptop computer to Kremlin meetings.
But Chubais also has had his share of controversy, including a campaign episode, never fully explained, in which two aides were discovered coming out of the Russian parliament building with a box containing $500,000. Chubais has been a bitter foe of the hard-liners in Yeltsin's entourage who were fired last year, including Yeltsin's shadowy former bodyguard, Lt. Gen. Alexander Korzhakov.
In recent days Chubais had held talks with another reformist economist, Grigory Yavlinsky, who heads the centrist Yabloko bloc in parliament, about some of his party leaders joining the government.
But Yavlinsky announced today that the party had refused. He said the group was being invited to carry out "the program that has led us into the current blind alley" and "such an approach is unacceptable to us."