Russian Prime Minister Signals Reform Slowdown

RIFTS are appearing in Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Cabinet that could make it tougher for President Boris Yeltsin to push on with radical reforms after his return from the Vancouver summit.

Cautious reformers, particularly Mr. Chernomyrdin, look ready to abandon the current reform course, calling for a slower pace and a new direction to change. They are also lukewarm to Western aid offers.

"We have to thank them for it. But ... I, for one, feel humiliated in a sense," Chernomyrdin said in a TV interview April 2, adding that Russia should rely on its own resources to recover from a devastating economic collapse.

Intra-government squabbling has gone on since reforms began in January 1992, but never so publicly as now. A more radical faction, generally aligned with Mr. Yeltsin's views, advocates tight fiscal policies to curb inflation, while the more cautious faction says large-scale support for failing industries is still necessary to prevent unrest.

Since taking office in December, Chernomyrdin has gone back and forth between the factions, generally supporting the tight money policies that have been in place since the beginning of the year. But his comments April 2 indicate that the cautious approach to reform is now ascendant.

"The government will not stand in the president's shadow," the Interfax news agency quoted Chernomyrdin as saying.

Especially significant was Chernomyrdin's public condemnation of Privatization Minister Anatoly Chubais.

"Chubais is carrying out the collectivization of privatization," Chernomyrdin said, referring to dictator Joseph Stalin's brutal collectivization policies of the late 1920s, which resulted in the deaths of millions.

Mr. Chubais called Chernomyrdin's comments "lies," adding that he would defend rapid privatization. "We know how to fight our enemies, and we have no intention of surrendering what we're doing."

The openness and severity of the criticism of Chubais suggest that his job is in jeopardy.

Many in the conservative-dominated Russian parliament want to halt the rapid sell-off of state-owned industry, and replace it with a plan that would facilitate employee ownership of factories. But this, Chubais warns, would allow former Communist Party bosses to retain control of industry and would doom radical reforms.

"Any essential change in the existing privatization mechanism would be a time-bomb that would blow up the whole [reform] process," said former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, the newly elected leader of the All-Russian Association of Enterprises Undergoing Privatization, Interfax reported.

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