President Boris Yeltsin warned the Russian government Friday that he would step in to defend economic freedoms if ministers tried to bring down a new "Iron Curtain" of control in their bid to stem a financial crisis.
"If there is a threat that citizens' rights, including economic ones, might be violated, then in this case, his reaction would be very tough," Yeltsin's spokesman, Dmitry Yakushkin, told reporters at the Kremlin."If we take actions like banning dollars, the president understands perfectly what this ban would mean - it would mean the violation of many of our rights . . . a return to the Iron Curtain."
"There will be no return to the old days," Yeltsin said.
Yeltsin, 67, is a much diminished figure since he was forced by the Communist-led parliament to appoint compromise Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and appoint a communist former head of Soviet state planning as his first deputy for economic affairs.
But despite his uncertain health and shrinking authority as retirement looms in mid-2000, he still has vast constitutional powers and could step in if the government acted on suggestions it ban free trade in hard currency and nationalize some banks.
Yakushkin stressed that the president, whose public approval rating is in single figures after seven years of economic chaos, was not about to get involved in the nuts and bolts of financial policy but would defend "the pillars of the economic system, which provides for a whole range of freedoms."
In any case, Primakov's disparate and squabbling coalition seems a long way from taking any decisive action, three weeks after parliament confirmed the ex-foreign minister in office.
The premier himself denied on Thursday that any strategy had been finalized after a newspaper ran what it said was the economic plan drawn up by Communist First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov and liberals branded the scheme a return to a command economy that risked re-igniting runaway inflation.
Confirming the impression of disarray in the government ranks in the face of the worst economic crisis since communism, business newspaper Kommersant-Daily carried a long and detailed report saying liberal Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov had opposed virtually every point of Maslyukov's crisis plan.