Russians Choose New Leader

Russian lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister Friday after he called on all political factions to unite behind his government and tackle the country's economic crisis.

The vote came after Primakov (a compromise choice of Boris Yeltsin) called on all political factions to unite behind his government and tackle Russia's economic crisis.

"We need unity to come out of this very grave crisis," he told the hushed chamber.

"Do not expect to continue political confrontation," he added. Primakov said he did not have an economic program because he had only been nominated the day before, but economic reform would continue.

"Reforms are necessary. The present situation cannot be overcome without them," he said.

But at the same time, he called for a strong state role in regulating the economy. "The government should intervene into the economic affairs and regulate them. This is not a return to the administrative and command system," he said.

The Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, voted 315-63 to confirm Primakov, in a major show of support for the new government. He called for political stability, asking party leaders to give his government up to a year before deciding if it was succeeding or not.

He denied this would be a return to Soviet economic control, instead comparing it to emergency measures taken by the U.S. government during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"So what must we do? Repeat the wild capitalism that we had up till now? Or use the experience of other countries?" he said.

He said the government had to do a much better job running the country.

"We need to strengthen discipline. We should stop this sloppiness which now exists in the government," he said.

Primakov said he wanted representatives of all political parties in his Cabinet, but warned they should put aside party interests.

On foreign policy, Primakov said there would be no confrontation with the West, but it was vital to defend Russia's national interests.

"We don't need confrontation, a return to the Cold War. And that will not happen," he said. "But at the same time we will strictly defend the interests of the state."

Primakov said on Friday he would take particular care, if allowed to form a government, to prevent the break up of the huge Russian Federation.

"The government which will be formed should pay special attention to the unity of Russia. It is a far from theoretical question," he told parliament during a debate on whether to endorse his appointment. "We are facing a serious danger, a serious danger of our country fragmenting."

Primakov said Friday a new government would need time to tackle Russia's economic crisis, and he appealed to all political factions for support.

President Boris Yeltsin said a major crisis had been avoided by compromise and that Primakov had strong backing from all sides. He called for measure to stabilize prices, restore supplies to shops, and prop up the banking system.

"I understand that it's hard for everyone, but one cannot give in to emotions... We'll have to draw lessons from the current crisis and now we'll have to work on overcoming it," Yeltsin said in a television address to the nation.

In a sign the government wanted broad political support, Yeltsin nominated Viktor Gerashchenko to head the Central Bank. Gerashchenko, 60, former chief of the Soviet State Bank, headed the Central Bank for nearly three years until being ousted in October 1994 after the ruble nosedived.

Critics blamed Geraschenko for fueling inflation with huge credits to ailing industry and agriculture. Jeffrey Sachs, a former economic adviser to the Kremlin, once called him "the worst central bank governor in history."

Another ex-Soviet official, Yuri Maslyukov, would likely be first deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Duma deputies said. Maslyukov is a technocrat who until recently was trade and industry minister.

Meanwhile, opposition and pro-government political leaders hailed Yeltsin's decision to nominate Primakov for premier. "Common sense has prevailed in our state," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said Thursday. Zyuganov spearheaded the opposition to the previous candidate for premier, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Primakov, a former KGB spy chief respected across the political spectrum, will need to quickly assemble a Cabinet to deal with the most severe economic crisis since the Soviet collapse. The ruble has plummeted, industrial production is stagnant and the government is broke.

Despite such deep economic problems, Primakov's nomination raised hopes on Russia's battered markets. The price of the ruble was between 10 and 12 to the dollar, up from 17 last Friday.

Primakov, 68, is supported by all but one of parliament's factions. He is seen as a technocrat, non-ideological and loyal to Yeltsin. The low-key, publicity shy foreign minister appears more comfortable handling discreet diplomatic negotiations than enduring the glare of publicity that his new job will bring.

As foreign minister, Primakov won praise at home for his efforts to restore some of Russia's diminished international clout and create a ``multipolar'' world designed to counterbalance U.S. dominance.

Primakov has cool but cordial relations with the United States. There has been periodic friction over his desire to ease sanctions against Iraq, maintain nuclear cooperation with Iran, and resist NATO's expansion.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev picked him as one of his closest aides during the reform period of the late 1980s. He entered the international spotlight at the end of 1990 when, shortly before the Gulf War began, he made several high-profile trips to Iraq and tried unsuccessfully to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait.

Primakov was briefly first deputy director of the KGB, the main Soviet security rganization in 1991. After the Soviet breakup, he served as head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service until Yeltsin named him foreign minister in 1996.

Yeltsin settled on Primakov after parliament twice rejected Chernomyrdin, with opposition leaders vowing to vote him down again on a third and final vote.

Chernomyrdin served five years as prime minister before Yeltsin fired him last March. Many Russians blame him for the country's economic problems.

Written by Barry Renfrew