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Yeltsin Government Purges Last Big Backer of Russian Economic Reform

By Lee Hockstader
The Washington Post
MOSCOW

Continuing the purge of almost all top Kremlin advocates of reform, President Boris Yeltsin Tuesday accepted the resignation of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, the driving force behind Russia's ambitious economic changes and the architect of its colossal privatization program.

Chubais, a 40-year-old economist who ranked below only Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in the government pecking order, made it clear that his resignation had been forced by Yeltsin's "rather negative evaluation" of his performance.

"I proceed from the belief that if the president considers my work as unsatisfactory I should not remain in the job," he said.

A key member of Yeltsin's team since 1991, Chubais was almost the last remaining pro-Western democrat in the upper reaches of the Russian government. His departure signifies a stunning reversal from the early days of Yeltsin's presidency, when Moscow's commitment to building a functioning market economy seemed unshakable.

His resignation a month after the victory of Communists and nationalists in legislative elections follows closely on the heels of the removal of two other leading advocates of change at the top level of the Russian government: foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev, who was dismissed last week after three years under fire from Communists and nationalists for pursuing too pro-Western a policy; and Yeltsin's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, who was transferred over the weekend to the No. 2 position on the commission to oversee this June's presidential election.

Yeltsin's allies and enemies alike saw the dismissal of Chubais as driven by the president's effort to distance himself from the country's unpopular economic transformation and reposition himself as a traditional nationalist before the presidential campaign begins this spring. Although he has not announced his intentions, Yeltsin has given every indication that he plans to run for a second term.

Chubais had been roundly criticized for having conceived what is viewed here as a deeply flawed privatization program. "He's clearly become a political liability, and the president doesn't want political liabilities around," a Western economist in Moscow said.