MOSCOW, Jan. 25 -- President Boris Yeltsin named a new privatization chief Thursday in the latest in a string of personnel moves that has disturbed Russian reformists and the West. Yeltsin appointed Alexander Kazakov to take charge of the sell-off of state property, a process which has come under increasingly harsh criticism both from opposition leaders and from within the government. The appointment came a week after the forced resignation of privatization program author and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, whose dismissal was widely seen as a blow to reform at a key period. With presidential elections coming up in June, Yeltsin has been jettisoning figures unpopular with Russians who voted for Communists and nationalists in parliamentary elections last month. Many of those millions of voters saw privatization as a process under which a select few profited from the what opposition leaders called the firesale of Russia's wealth,' while failing to improve the lot of the average citizen. Yeltsin has pledged reforms will continue, but last week said privatization, the keystone of Russia's bid to become a market economy, was chock full of mistakes and had 'left the people with nothing.' Yeltsin spokesman Sergei Medvedev told news agencies the appointment would 'raise the authority of the State Property Committee,' which has borne the brunt of broad-based criticism of reforms many see as unfair and twisted. The chairmanship of the State Property Committee had been up for grabs since its former head quit to lead Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home is Russia party.
But government ministers seen as reformers sounded unenthusiastic about the appointment, in which close associates of the departed Chubais were passed over in a sign of possible privatization slowdown. Opposition leaders and some in government have called for a reversal of favoritism and corrupt loans for shares privatization in which the state sold shares in key enterprises in exchange for loans to plug the budget. An economist and former apparatchik in Gosplan, the monstrous Soviet state economic planning agency, Kazakov worked in the privatization program from its beginnings in 1992 until he moved to the Yeltsin administration in 1994. Kazakov was also named as one of several deputy prime ministers but will not replace Chubais as one of two First Deputy Prime Ministers who hold more power to influence government economic policy. Russian news agencies said Yeltsin was slated to meet Thursday afternoon with Vladimir Kadannikov, the Volga Automobile Factory director who analysts say Yeltsin is likely to name to replace Chubais. Kadannikov has pledged his dedication to reforms, and his appointment is unlikely to be seen as a major step backward by Yeltsin, whose shakeup and strong words against Chubais have been seen as purely politically motivated. But the move would mark a continued shift away from economists in top posts and toward industrial leaders seen as less likely to press overall reforms than to protect the interests of individual enterprises. While Chubais was vilified for overseeing an unfair privatization program, he was also the author of several attempts to rein in privileged groups that make large profits and failing to contribute to the budget. Chubais had tried to break the alcohol and tobacco import monopoly of Yeltsin tennis teacher and National Sports Fund chief Shamil Tarpishchev, whose exemption from import duties cost the budget millions of dollars a year. He was also seeking to create a commission to control the oil industry, seizing more export money for the government in an effort vehemently opposed by entrenched and profitable oil companies.