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 full-length interview was aired later on Russian state television.
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."
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.
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 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.
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.