MOSCOW: Trying to improve his government's image with a population on the verge of a massive strike over unpaid state pensions and salaries, Boris Yeltsin told government officials that they had to give up their luxury imported cars in favor of less expensive Russian-made autos. Instead of the slick Mercedes sedans that have become the car of choice for everyone from mafiosi to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, government officials would be relegated to the stolid comfort of a Russian-made Volga sedan. Yeltsin’s push may be nothing more than a public relations screen, since the Mercedes will be sold at an April 1 auction where the officials will be able to buy them back at bargain basement prices. The fact that Yeltsin gave the order to "Buy Russian" on the advice of new first deputy premier Boris Nemtsov has raised eyebrows as well. As the former governor of Nizhny Novgorod, the central region where Volgas are produced, Nemtsov has a hometown interest in boosting sales of the boxy, outmoded car once favored by Soviet Union honchos. Yeltsin’s “Buy Russian” campaign does have its limits: he’s keeping his own black Mercedes limousine.