Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Yeltsin Rocks Russia with Mass Firings

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Yeltsin Rocks Russia with Mass Firings

Article excerpt

MOSCOW -- Russia was plunged into a grave political crisis yesterday when President Boris Yeltsin dismissed the prime minister and Cabinet for the third time in little more than a year.

The sacking of Yevgeny Primakov, announced by Yeltsin in a somber speech on national television, appeared timed as a pre-emptive strike on parliament, which was poised to begin impeachment proceedings against the Russian president today.

Besides putting Yeltsin on a collision course with parliament, the dismissals threatened to disrupt the Kosovo peace process, further damage Russia's husk of an economy and upset the political stability that Primakov had worked hard to achieve.

Yeltsin named a close ally, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, as acting prime minister. Stepashin's appointment as Primakov's permanent replacement appeared to have little chance of approval in the Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Yeltsin's maneuvering bewildered and angered his critics and -- with legislative elections set for December -- left the country's political future uncertain.

"We are prepared for any outcome because there is no logic in the actions of Yeltsin and his entourage," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said after the president's announcement.

Yeltsin has a long history of firing aides, often because they appear to be overshadowing him. It was Primakov, the former foreign minister and spymaster, who took the fall this time, losing the job he had held since last September, when he was summoned to pick up the pieces after Russia's economic crash.

As snow swirled outside on an unusually bleak spring day, Yeltsin sat before a Russian flag at the Kremlin and told the nation that he had been forced to fire Primakov because the prime minister had failed to recharge the economy.

"The time for calming talk is over. It's high time to take energetic measures," Yeltsin said, speaking unusually slowly, his face puffy, his demeanor grim.

In effect, Yeltsin is forcing a political crisis by nominating Stepashin, who is disliked -- and perhaps feared -- by the Duma. As interior minister, Stepashin commanded tens of thousands of troops and police. …

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