Yeltsin Undertakes Kremlin Shake-UpBy Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 12 1997; Page A21
President Boris Yeltsin ordered a sweeping shake-up of his unpopular government today, pledging to slash the bloated Russian bureaucracy and warning that every senior official's job is on the line except for those of his top two lieutenants.
The decree sent ripples of fear through the ranks of Yeltsin's senior aides and cabinet officials, whose fates are expected to be decided within the week. Clenched smiles in public were the order of the day.
"I don't know what the president will decide, but I hope to see you next time," said Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who appeared at a press conference after meeting here with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Primakov's job is not believed to be at risk.
"It is not important whether I will stay on or not because Russia will remain," deadpanned Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Lobov, who was traveling in Bulgaria. His future reportedly is clouded.
The scope of the impending shuffle is not yet known, and past promises of new beginnings by Yeltsin governments have yielded disappointing results. But among those who favor reinvigorating Russia's stalled economic reform drive there was optimism that the new leadership would be more energetic, more market-oriented and less wedded to entrenched business oligarchies whose interests are intertwined with the government's.
That optimism was based largely on the enormous new power conferred on free-market economist Anatoly Chubais, 41, an ardent and disciplined reformer who was the architect of Russia's massive privatization program and mastermind of Yeltsin's reelection campaign last year.
Chubais was named first deputy prime minister last week, and Yeltsin made it clear that only Chubais and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin are assured of secure roles at the top of the Russian government. Thus, Chubais is likely to have a major say in the coming realignment and will be able to insert close allies into key economic positions.
Four other senior officials who have held the title of first deputy prime minister will now be demoted or, perhaps, bounced from government. Yeltsin's decree said the ranks of deputy prime ministers -- there are nine currently -- would also be thinned. The overall number of ministries and ministers, which has grown rapidly in the past few years, is to be trimmed as well.
The president named a new chief of staff today to replace Chubais, who had held that position since last July. He is Valentin Yumashev, 39, a former journalist and the ghost writer of Yeltsin's 1991 autobiography, "Against the Grain." He was formerly chief editor of the reformist magazine Ogonyok.
Speculation is rife in the Russian media and among political insiders about who will get the ax in the coming shake-up. The most prominent minister reported to be in peril is Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. For months, as Yeltsin was sidelined with heart disease and pneumonia, Rodionov issued ever more dire pronouncements about the sorry state of Russia's armed forces.
Yeltsin, who finally swept back into the limelight last week with his erstwhile aplomb, snapped publicly at Rodionov, telling him to stop "whining." With that, the political death watch for Rodionov commenced.
Some analysts also say Finance Minister Alexander Livshits will be sacked. He has come under attack from critics who blame him for the fact that millions of state employees have not received their full salaries in months. He has also drawn fire from special interests that have lost their tax shelters as a result of his intervention. "I'm a problem for everyone," Livshits told a newspaper this week. "And I have almost no allies."
The lone Communist Party member in Yeltsin's cabinet, Aman Tuleev, also speculated today that he might be fired. He is minister for the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of Russia and 11 other former Soviet republics.