Russia's fledgling government was thrown into turmoil late Friday when centrist Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Shokhin stormed out of the Cabinet nine days after he was appointed.
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who had seemed at last close to completing his Cabinet team, angrily lashed out at Shokhin's decision as "irresponsible" and "capricious" in the hard times of Russia's severe economic crisis.President Boris Yeltsin and Primakov appointed 10 more ministers Friday. Among those was liberal Mikhail Zadornov who, after much hesitation on Primakov's part, retained the finance portfolio.
That enraged Shokhin, who was in charge of relations with Russia's major international creditors. He described the reappointment as a "political mistake" and said he held Zadornov responsible for Russia's debt freeze and collapsing ruble.
"The reappointment means that the government is ready to become the heir to the decisions made by the previous Cabinet and the central bank," Shokhin told NTV television.
Primakov's statement, read by a government spokesman to Reuters, left no doubts the new premier was enraged.
"I think this is irresponsible, especially at such a difficult time, with regard to the country, to the government and to the president who had done Shokhin a great favor by appointing him to such an important post," it said.
But Primakov's statement said the government was calm and "not weakened" by Shokhin's "capricious demarche."
Shokhin has quit before, and on similar grounds. In 1994, he stormed out of Viktor Chernomyrdin's Cabinet, unhappy about the appointment of Vladimir Panskov as finance minister.
The biggest risk from Zadornov's appointment to the fragile consensus of the new government had seemed to come from the Communists, whose Yuri Maslyukov is first deputy premier.
The Communists forced Yeltsin to drop his earlier attempts to re-install Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister two weeks ago. They have sounded more and more skeptical that the former foreign minister would break with the monetarist, free-market ideas of the past seven years.
But in the end it was Shokhin, formerly parliamentary leader of Chernomyrdin's Our Home is Russia party, who could not accept the appointment of Zadornov.
Shokhin had been conducting negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank since taking office last week - a role he previously filled in 1994.
Zadornov's appointment was welcomed by some Western analysts.