Yeltsin Appoints Primakov as Prime Minister

MOSCOW (Reuters)–President Boris Yeltsin’s foes vowed on Thursday to back his compromise premier-designate Yevgeny Primakov after the Kremlin chief buckled under Russian opposition pressure following days of dithering amid crisis.

The Communists and others swiftly lined up to say they approved of Yeltsin’s choice. State Duma leaders said the lower house of parliament would vote on Friday and almost certainly confirm Primakov–previously the foreign minister–in office.

"Good sense has prevailed this time," triumphant Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said after hearing Yeltsin had ditched veteran ally Viktor Chernomyrdin in favor of Primakov–a 68-year-old ex-spy master a year older than the president.

"I think his candidacy will get solid support."

Yeltsin gave the Communists further cause for celebration but was unlikely to raise cheers in the West or at the International Monetary Fund–which wants to see coherent reforms in the world’s largest country before handing over more cash.

The Kremlin said Communist Yuri Maslyukov–a former head of the Soviet Gosplan state planning body–was likely to be in Primakov’s cabinet and that Viktor Gerashchenko was the most realistic candidate to head the Russian central bank.

Gerashchenko headed the Soviet state bank and then the Russian central bank at a time of hyperinflation until fired in 1994–after the ruble lost 30 percent of its value in a day.

All but Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultra-nationalists look set to back Primakov. On the streets–people had mostly kind words for him but were more interested in the ruble–battered again in recent weeks after a period of stability.

Crucially at a time of political instability in the second nuclear power–Primakov won the backing of Acting Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and Acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin–who pointed to his intelligence background.

In a speech to world parliamentarians whose will has gone down well with Communists and the military–Primakov said Russia’s diplomatic role was vital despite its weakened state.

"By virtue of its size–power–potential and history–Russia objectively belonged and still belongs to the ran’s of leading countries," he said.

Reaction abroad to Primakov’s nomination was cautious. Washington said it expected "good and close" ties with Primakov–who has worked well with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

France and Finland welcomed his nomination as a way to halt the slide into economic chaos–a stomach-churning decline that has hit banks and investor sentiment abroad.

Germany said Yeltsin had told Chancellor Helmut Kohl by telephone that Primakov would press ahead with the reforms the Kremlin chief started seven years ago. Primakov told visiting European Union diplomats much the same in Moscow.

Primakov has huge foreign policy experience–no known presidential ambitions and favors market reforms. But his economic credentials–a 1950s doctorate in economics and a thesis on socialist Egypt–are untested.

"Primakov is not an economist–so everything will depend on the people he appoints," said Thierry Malleret–chief economist at Alfa Capital investment bank in Moscow.

He faces at least three sets of economic proposals drawn up since the latest stage of the crisis began last month.

Russia’s stock market closed 4.82 per cent up in thin volume. The ruble also rose – the central bank fixed it at 12.8749 per dollar–up on Wednesday’s 15.7724 but still fragile after weeks of chaos.

Chernomyrdin said he was standing down as acting prime minister because he did not command wide support.

"If Chernomyrdin today is a stumbling block and splits society then I give up my powers," he said. Chernomyrdin–60–had served as prime minister for more than five years until Yeltsin sacked him in March–only to recall him last month.

The Duma–dominated by opposition parties–had twice rejected Chernomyrdin–most recently on Monday–saying he was responsible for Russia’s woes rather than the man to end them.

The vote on Primakov is the third and last chance for Yeltsin to have his choice of premier installed. If his nominee were again rejected–he would have to dissolve the Duma.

That danger now seems to have evaporated but Russia’s economic crisis remains dire–Yeltsin’s authority has been unquestionably diminished and talk of civil unrest refuses to go away–even if most Russia’s seem more interested in scouting for food in empty stores than storming the barricades.

Chernomyrdin–whose presidential ambitions have been dented now for a second time–said Russia’s leftist opposition was banking on a "creeping coup" to restore a Soviet-style system.

Yeltsin spent from Monday until Thursday out at his Gorky-9 country residence–meeting advisers and mulling his options.

But with the opposition raising the specter of a definite third "no" vote against Chernomyrdin–as well as civil unrest or even civil war–those options had narrowed considerably.

Political analysts said in the circumstances Yeltsin had chosen the best possible other candidate.

But it is not in Yeltsin’s style to cave in. Primakov was one of five alternatives put forward by the Communists and their allies.

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