Originally created 08/29/98

Yeltsin: 'I'm not going anywhere'



MOSCOW -- Boris Yeltsin, trying to demonstrate he's still in charge, fired two prominent economic reformers today and vowed to serve out his full term amid opponents' calls for his resignation and for a reversal of free-market reforms.

"I want to say that I'm not going anywhere," he said on national television. "I'm not going to resign. I will work as I'm supposed to for my constitutional term. In 2000 there will be an election for a new president and I will not run."

His remarks, first broadcast on the evening news, marked the first time Yeltsin had addressed the nation during the current political and economic crisis and came after days of feverish speculation that he would resign. A 20-minute segment of the interview was aired later on Russian state television; the full version is to be broadcast Sunday.

Looking calm and relaxed, Yeltsin also said he was doing everything he could to fix the economy.

"Everybody knows that I'm an optimist by nature. That's certainly the truth," Yeltsin said. "But now I believe that it can be done."

He said he understands that the crisis, especially last week's devaluation of the ruble, has brought more hardship to already hard-pressed Russians.

"It would be naive to say that we'll take some steps and people won't suffer," he said. "However as president, I must say that we'll take every measure to ensure that people don't lose their savings. I cannot promise that prices won't go up, but as president I am obligated to do everything to keep it to a minimum."

Yeltsin conducted a series of high-level meetings today in an attempt to show he was still in control in the Kremlin. He had not been seen in public since Tuesday, stoking rumors that he was considering stepping down or had been incapacitated.

In an apparent concession to hard-liners, Yeltsin fired prominent reformers Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais -- the latter for the third time. Chubais was the government's chief negotiator with international lenders, obtaining a $22.6 billion emergency bailout package that failed to stem the financial crisis. Both men are hated by the opposition for being the chief proponents of reform.

Throughout the day, Yeltsin's opponents and supporters went over the terms of a rescue package designed to end the crisis by curbing some of Russia's free-market reforms.

Acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin accepted a package of Soviet-era economic measures, which parliamentary leaders proposed as a condition for confirming his appointment. The leaders called a special session of the State Duma for Monday to consider the confirmation.

"We must forget ambitions, we must stabilize the situation and ease tension that reached a critical point," Chernomyrdin told reporters.

But the Kremlin took a tougher line on a proposed power-sharing agreement that would give lawmakers more say over Cabinet appointments and government policy and curb Yeltsin's powers.

Russians, who have weathered one government crisis after another in recent years, were taking the latest one in stride, too. Although there were lines outside some banks, there was no sign of food-hoarding or social unease.

Yeltsin's press service also reiterated today that the summit with President Clinton in Moscow would go ahead as scheduled next week. Yeltsin discussed summit plans today with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Parliament's proposals would give lawmakers more say over Cabinet appointments and government policies. They also would offer certain guarantees -- such as immunity from prosecution -- if a president steps down. This provision has fueled speculation that Yeltsin's resignation was imminent.

Chernomyrdin, who was fired in March, was brought back in a surprise move on Sunday as Yeltsin sought a more experienced leader to replace the youthful former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko.

But Chernomyrdin's return has failed to calm the markets, which continue to deteriorate.

The government said it would try to sell 1 billion rubles, or $127 million worth of short-term bonds next week.

All currency trades were suspended for a third day today on orders from the Central Bank, effectively freezing the market through the weekend. The Central Bank lowered the official rate today to 7.905, or 12.7 cents, while the street rate remained below 10 rubles to the dollar.

The crisis has created a severe shortage of dollars both for banks and citizens. Banks, which must keep a certain percentage of their reserves in dollars, are hoarding them, and Russians who want to buy or withdraw them for safekeeping have been largely out of luck.

Russian stocks rebounded today from their dramatic fall earlier in the week, but traders cautioned that the move was exaggerated by the fact that volume has fallen to a trickle.