Angry Russians blame government for economic mess
Web posted at: 11:53 a.m. EDT (1553 GMT)
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Nevermind what the politicians say about the country's economic crisis, ordinary Russians know firsthand what the recent decline in the value of the country's currency feels like.
President Boris Yeltsin's sudden sacking of Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, combined with a dramatic plunge in the value of the ruble, has left Russian consumers worried -- and angry.
"I'm so upset -- I can hardly speak," one middle-aged man told CNN, speaking only a few days after Yeltsin decided to bring back Viktor Chernomyrdin as acting prime minister -- the very man he had sacked as Cabinet leader a few months ago amid allegations he was not implementing economic reforms quickly enough.
"Do I trust the new government? Absolutely not. There is no master in the country. And you know what happens if there is no master," the man said.
A similar view was echoed Tuesday by a leading business daily, which said in its front page commentary: "It has become quite clear that Russia lacks not only a government but a president as well."
Chernomyrdin's reappointment has raised questions about Yeltsin's political credibility and that of the new Cabinet, which has not yet been announced.
"We have no idea if Chernomyrdin will be better or worse. All I can tell you is that we have no good expectations at all -- from no one," another angry woman told CNN.
One consumer commented that she was in no doubt as to who to blame for the economic mess. "I think our government, our president. That's all I would like to say. Who is to blame? Not ordinary people."
But it is ordinary people, many of whom have gone for months without being paid, who are now clearly struggling in light of mounting prices in food markets.
Some politicians, too, are keeping a wary eye on Chernomyrdin, particularly those in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, which is dominated by Communist party delegates.
The opposition has already signaled that Chernomyrdin will not automatically be accepted by the Duma, saying policy priorities must first be outlined and discussed by the new acting head.
"He (Chernomyrdin) will now be not a technocratic but a political prime minister, who would view the situation from one viewpoint -- and that is whether he will be elected president of Russia," political analyst Vyatcheslav Nikonov told CNN.
The Duma has already balked at passing legislation on raising taxes and cutting government spending in order to comply with demands made by the International Monetary Fund, which has offered funds to support a Russian economy badly hit by the Asian financial crisis and falling oil prices.
Chernomyrdin said he would try to ease the pain of ordinary Russians and assist ailing industries. But Russians have heard that one before. For the time being, confidence in Russia's ability to find its way out of this economic crisis is dropping as fast -- or faster -- than the ruble.
Correspondent Betsy Aaron contributed to this report.
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