Boris Yeltsin was considering compromise candidates for prime minister Wednesday, including a former Soviet official, while political leaders called for swift action to pull Russia out of an economic nose dive.
Government officials gave conflicting signals on how soon Yeltsin would announce a decision, with some saying he would act Wednesday. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said he did not know if a decision had been made."We are waiting for the decision of the president," he said, refusing to speculate on possible candidates for the post.
Yeltsin was closeted at his country home outside Moscow, meeting with top aides and deciding if he would agree to a compromise candidate for prime minister.
There was speculation in the Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, that Yeltsin may be considering Yuri Maslyukov, a Soviet-era economic official and a member of the Communist Party who resigned last week as trade and industry minister.
Communist and centrist leaders praised Maslyukov, saying they would back him for prime minister. Maslyukov met Wednesday with Yeltsin's chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, but there were no details on what they discussed, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Maslyukov was not offered any government post Wednesday, his press secretary, Anton Surikov, told reporters late in the day, according to Interfax.
Two other names bandied about were those of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and acting Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov - both of whom indicated they were not interested.
One Duma leader said he thought it was a positive sign that Yeltsin was not immediately naming a nominee. Oleg Morozov, head of the Russian Regions group, said the president's hesitation suggested he was taking parliamentary criticism to heart.
"It is a very positive moment," he said, according to ITAR-Tass. "Everyone understands that there is a chance to agree."
The ruble strengthened dramatically Wednesday, rising to an exchange rate of about 15 to the U.S. dollar at some places. That compared to an exchange rate of around 20 to the dollar Tuesday.
Foreign currency dealers said the improved rate reflected a shortage of rubles and sales of dollars by some banks. Stores in Moscow were restocking shelves and people seemed less worried about food shortages.
"I'm buying but I haven't been in panic," said Tatyana Shishkova, a retired teacher. "We see people hoarding, but we don't do it. . . . I personally am an optimist. I think in the end everything will fall back into place."
Ever since the Duma resoundingly rejected his unpopular choice of Viktor Chernomyrdin on Monday, Yeltsin has been meeting with aides but has said nothing publicly. Previously, he has made a new nomination within hours of a no vote, and the delay spurred speculation he was considering a change.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov warned Wednesday that the Duma would begin impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin if he nominated Chernomyrdin a third time. A vote to start impeachment proceedings blocks Yeltsin from dissolving the Duma.
But the Duma needs a two-thirds majority to begin impeachment, and government supporters predicted it could not be passed.
Yeltsin has one more chance to propose a candidate - either Chernomyrdin or someone else. If the Duma rejects the third choice, Yeltsin is required to disband the chamber and call new elections.