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08/25/1998 10:34:42 FOCUS-Nemtsov blames Russia crisis on Chernomyrdin

(Adds comments on crisis, presidential elections)

BONN, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Russian reformer Boris Nemtsov, who

lost his government job last weekend, on Tuesday blamed acting

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for Russia's financial

crisis.

Nemtsov told a German news magazine that outgoing prime

minister Sergei Kiriyenko's four-month government had from the

outset been "a hostage" of the profligate borrowing of

Chernomyrdin's previous administration.

"Chernomyrdin never even tried to cut spending. He used

credits like a drug," Nemtsov told the news weekly Stern. "A

huge pyramid of debt built up. Sooner or later either the

country had to explode or the financial system had to collapse."

Russian President Boris Yeltsin turned on Sunday to

Chernomyrdin, who served him for five years until last March,

after making Kiriyenko the scapegoat for an effective rouble

devaluation and the imposition of a debt moratorium.

Nemtsov, the 38-year-old former governor of Nizhny Novgorod,

said that Chernomyrdin, 60, was the wrong man to put Russia back

on track.

"If Chernomyrdin says now that he can save the country, it

is just a joke," he told Stern in an interview released ahead of

publication on Thursday.

Nemtsov defended the record of the short-lived Kiriyenko

government, saying it had been right to throw money at the

defence of the rouble.

"If we hadn't tried everything, experts throughout the world

would have said 'you gave up too easily'," he said. "Actually it

didn't go too badly. There was no panic, no collapse."

Nemtsov pointed out that the rouble had actually fallen only

around 10 percent in value following the de facto devaluation at

the start of last week. He said many banks would go bust, but

healthy ones should survive.

He said the three-month partial debt moratorium would help

the government to clear a wages backlog, but more needed to be

done to fight systemic tax evasion in Russia.

"I believe we should simply lock up 10 high-profile tax

evaders. Everyone would understand that," Nemtsov said, pointing

his finger at Russia's powerful finance elite.

"The oligarchs bought assets at rock-bottom prices under

Chernomyrdin. If they don't pay any taxes now we should break up

their empires."

Nemtsov also said he did not believe that Yeltsin would seek

a third term in presidential elections in 2000.

He said either Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov or Krasnoyarsk

regional governor Alexander Lebed would win power, but did not

comment on whether he himself would seek the office.

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