For Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, it was the biggest blow since he took office 18 months ago. On Dec. 9, hard-line members of the Russian Congress of People's Deputies beat back Yeltsin's attempt to win confirmation of radical economist Yegor T. Gaidar as Prime Minister. Gaidar lost by only 19 votes. But the decision shows just how much opposition there is to Gaidar's painful, shock-therapy reform policies. Furthermore, it leaves Yeltsin in a much weakened position and could jeopardize negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on billions of dollars in aid.

Yeltsin could now be forced to shuffle his Cabinet. Increasingly likely is the dismissal of Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who has been criticized for being too pro-American. The congress vote against Gaidar is doubly bad because Yeltsin fought hard for compromise. To win votes for Gaidar, he agreed to give the Russian Parliament a veto on candidates for ministers of foreign affairs, defense, security, and internal affairs. The congress quickly snapped up Yeltsin's offer, but it voted to dump Gaidar anyway. In another compromise move, Yeltsin decided against asking the congress to renew special powers he had gained a year ago to issue economic reform decrees without parliamentary approval. Now the Russian President faces a winter of parliamentary battles over issues such as the 1993 privatization program, credits for flagging enterprises, and tax policy.

But Yeltsin hasn't given up the fight. He is expected to keep Gaidar on as acting Prime Minister for three more months--as Russian law allows. Gaidar has held that post since last spring. The extra time would give Gaidar the chance to stave off hyperinflation and privatize a significant chunk of state industry before leaving office. With such a privatization program in place, it would be much more difficult for hard-liners to turn back Gaidar's reforms.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.