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Russian Communists Oppose Chernomyrdin Appointment

By David Hoffman
The Washington Post

President Boris Yeltsin faced a new political crisis Sunday night as the Communist opposition and other blocs in parliament declared they will oppose Yeltsin's reappointment of Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister.

The announcement by Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov climaxed two weeks of setbacks for Yeltsin as he struggles to find a way to deal with Russia's most crippling financial crisis in the 6 1/2 years it has spent trying to refashion itself into a free-market democracy. It also leaves no formal government in place as the Russian leader prepares for a summit meeting with President Clinton here this week.

Zyuganov's announcement took political observers here by surprise, since it came just hours after it appeared Yeltsin allies and leaders of the lower house, the State Duma, had negotiated an agreement that would allow Chernomyrdin to be confirmed by parliament Monday.

The deal called for a political truce, under which Yeltsin would agree not to dissolve the present Duma, while its members pledged not to initiate a vote a no-confidence in the government. It would give lawmakers more say in government appointments and set in motion a long-term process to amend the 1993 constitution, which gives the president far-reaching powers.

Appearing on the widely-watched television program Itogi, Zyuganov said he and other leaders of the Communist Party - the largest faction in the Duma - decided not to sign the agreement because there was no way of ensuring its provisions would be implemented. "The document does not guarantee anything to anyone," he said. Sources familiar with the negotiations said Zyuganov had attempted, apparently without success, to insert additional provisions into the agreement, including a demand for more state control over the news media.

His statement was followed by declarations of opposition from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist who also heads a Duma party, and Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the centrist Yabloko faction, who had announced earlier that he was against the Chernomyrdin nomination.

Zhirinovsky said the proposed agreement "does not have a single realistic position that it will be done in the near future, that it will really redistribute powers in some way. It will blow up as soon as one of the sides does not like something."

Yavlinsky called the mutual pledges "extremely dangerous," saying it "means paralyzing all constitutional rights of citizens to influence power." The deal was designed to help Chernomyrdin win confirmation, he said, but "after this candidate is approved, it will simply be thrown away."

The opposition of all three factions probably spells defeat for Chernomyrdin's nomination on a first ballot in the 450-member Duma, but the vote could be postponed while his allies seek to marshal support. Zhirinovsky estimated Chernomyrdin has no more than 120 supporters in the Duma - the core of that coming from his own party.

If the Duma rejects Yeltsin's nominee on three ballots, the president can dissolve it and call for new legislative elections. In a clear overture to the lawmakers on Friday, Yeltsin said he did not intend to dissolve the Duma.

Chernomyrdin did draw public support Sunday night from Boris Berezovsky, a politically powerful business tycoon who played a role in his renomination. "Chernomyrdin will be the prime minister irrespective of the way the Duma is going to act," he said, adding that Yeltsin should never have started negotiating with the lawmakers. "There is not a single chance that Viktor Chernomyrdin will not be the next prime minister," he said. Faced with a collapsing currency, a paralyzed banking system and a crashing stock market, the Kremlin had hoped to win quick confirmation of Chernomyrdin, who warned Sunday that it would be dangerous to leave Russia without a government "and the ruble hanging by a thread."

Chernomyrdin had served as Yeltsin's prime minister for more than five years before the president fired him March 23 for failing to press fiscal reforms and nominated reformist banker Sergei Kiriyenko to the post. He then spent a month pushing for Kiriyenko's confirmation, which came on the third Duma ballot. The Communists publicly opposed Kiriyenko, but the final vote was by secret ballot, and some apparently broke party discipline to support him.

Just five months later, however - following an uproar here and in world financial markets caused by the Aug. 17 devaluation of the ruble - Yeltsin fired Kiriyenko and renominated Chernomyrdin.

Political analysts said the Communists' rejection of the deal might be posturing for the first ballot on Chernomyrdin, an attempt to raise the stakes, but opposition to the appointment also appears to reflect popular sentiment.

Sunday night, Itogi viewers had a chance to participate in a telephone poll on Chernomyrdin, and the results were overwhelming. Ninety percent of the callers said they were against him.