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Boris N. Yeltsin left for the United States Monday after putting his chief economic adviser in charge of the government, a signal to the West that he is not retreating from free market reforms.

It was not clear if the appointment means Yeltsin intends to relinquish the post of prime minister, which he holds in addition to the elected presidency.Yeltsin went to Washington to seek U.S. help in securing an infusion of $24 billion in Western aid and credits. To gain the aid, Yeltsin must show a firm commitment to economic reform and democracy.

However, the hardships springing up on the path to a free market are putting intense pressure on him to back away from reform. In recent weeks, Yeltsin has softened the bite of reforms somewhat.

In an effort to demonstrate that his goal is to reform rather than to rule Russia, Yeltsin said on May 27 that he would not seek a second five-year presidential term in 1996.

But he promised the popular pressure would not drive him from office early. "Only the Lord can command me to resign," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Yeltsin as saying Sunday after a church service at which he sought "cleansing" for the trip.

Before leaving, Yeltsin told reporters at the airport that Yegor Gaidar's appointment as acting head of the Russian government "means the reforms are moving forward."

Gaidar is deputy prime minister as well as chief economic adviser, and is the architect of Yeltin's reform program. Originally, he too was to go to Washington, but Yeltsin issued the decree appointing him just before leaving.

Yeltsin has come under increasing criticism recently for appointing old-style officials to the government.

Reformers in the government as well as Western economists have expressed concern that he may be backing away from reforms.

Yeltsin said in interviews prior to his departure that he hopes his meetings with Bush in Washington and other Western leaders in Munich next month "will finally break the knot" holding back the multibillion-dollar governmental commitment he says will lead to even greater private foreign investment in Russia.

But the Russian president "is going to have some problems," said one of Yeltsin's biggest Western boosters, U.S. Ambassador Bob Strauss.

"There should be some tough negotiations," Strauss predicted in a session with reporters a week before the summit.

Western economists are concerned because Yeltsin, fearing a social explosion, has felt forced to slow his reforms, which have sent the inflation rate to more than 300 percent so far this year.

Within the past two weeks, Yeltsin has balked at lifting controls on energy prices and is maintaining subsidies to thousands of state-owned enterprises that, in a market economy, would go bankrupt, throwing millions out of work.

To meet rising wage demands, the government is flooding the country with newly printed rubles - a step that could spark inflation and jeopardize the promise of Western credits.

Yeltsin and his aides say they are changing their tactics, not their goals. They say they are trying to avoid soaring fuel prices and high unemployment, which could cause the widescale unrest some experts have been predicting since the reforms began in January.

"Today, people still support the reforms, but if we go beyond a critical point, we'll set off a general disaster," Yeltsin said last week.