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World - Europe

Clinton-Yeltsin summit still on, despite Russian government shakeup

Clinton and Yeltsin
Clinton and Yeltsin  

In this story:

August 23, 1998
Web posted at: 10:44 p.m. EDT (0244 GMT)

EDGARTOWN, Massachusetts (CNN) -- U.S. officials on Sunday urged Russia to implement economic reforms in the wake of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's government shakeup, and said President Clinton will visit Moscow in September as planned.

Yeltsin fired Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko on Sunday and brought back Viktor Chernomyrdin -- the man he sacked when he named Kiriyenko five months ago.

U.S. Vice President Al Gore, on vacation in Hawaii, spoke with both Kiriyenko and Chernomyrdin on Sunday, urging the new Russian government to fulfill pledges of reform, according to a senior administration official.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Sunday the Clinton administration would have no direct comment about the turmoil in the Russian government except to say "our relations with the Russian Federation depend less on personality and more on policy."

Chernomyrdin and Gore
Chernomyrdin met with Gore in March  

"We are interested in what course of reform the government pursues, and we hope there will be continuity in taking steps to get the Russian economy stable and growing," McCurry said.

Clinton, vacationing at Martha's Vineyard, was briefed on the situation by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.

Yeltsin's surprise announcement came in the midst of a deep economic crisis and one week after the Russian government effectively devalued its national currency, the ruble.

U.S. anticipated firing

Two senior administration officials tell CNN that U.S. intelligence sources had anticipated the firing and that Clinton was told of the prospect in recent intelligence briefings.

One of these officials speculated that bringing back Chernomyrdin in place of the reform-minded Kiriyenko, a 36-year-old former banker, would "complicate" efforts to reform the struggling Russian economy.

The Russian currency
The Russian currency was effectively devalued last week  

In fact, Chernomyrdin may not be what the United States wants as far as a reformer, according to one observer.

"Not many people in the U.S. government view Viktor Chernomyrdin as someone who was a staunch reformer," said David Kramer of the Carnegie Endowment. "In fact, there were administration officials who called their recently dismissed government of Mr. Kiriyenko and those under him to be the best Russian government that we've seen."

Clinton's planned visit to Russia on September 1 is still scheduled as planned, said White House spokesman P.J. Crowley. The visit is expected to focus on economic issues.

"The president was invited by President Yeltsin, and we have a wide range of bilateral issues to address in their meetings," Crowley.

'The situation is worrying'

Like the United States, Germany -- Russia's biggest foreign lender and trade partner -- has wanted to see Moscow push on with urgent reforms of its finance system and budget organization, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said Sunday.

Kinkel said Russia was in a difficult situation but expressed confidence in Chernomyrdin.

"The situation is worrying. Russia is in difficult waters, there's no doubt about that. And of course, the constant change of governments and people doesn't exactly encourage confidence," Kinkel told ARD television.

"On the other hand, we know Viktor Chernomyrdin well. We've worked well with him a great deal in the past. I'm sure he'll continue the reforms. He'll create trust. Trust has been lost," Kinkel said in a short interview aired late Sunday evening.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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