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Russia: Yeltsin Replaces Fired Ministers

Moscow, 2 March 1998 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin replaced three cabinet ministers he had fired over the weekend with three veteran officials.

Reports also say Yeltsin today signed a decree sacking powerful Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov. The reports said Mikhailov would be transferred to an unspecified scientific job. There were no further details.

Russian news agencies reported that after meeting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin this morning, Yeltsin announced he had appointed Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin to replace Valery Serov as Deputy Prime Minister responsible for relations with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky also said Yeltsin has appointed Yury Mikhailov as Transport Minister and Aleksandr Tikhonov as Education Minister to replace Nikolai Tsakh and Vladimir Kinelyov, fired Saturday, at the same time as Serov. Mikhailov and Tikhonov previously served as deputies of the ministries they now head.

Rybkin was named Security Council Secretary in October 1996. Since then, he has led negotiations with Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya. He told journalists today that, during a "transition period," he will continue to supervise relations between Russia and Chechnya, and declined to name his possible successor on the Security Council. Interax news agency said today that a Security Council meeting, scheduled for tomorrow, has been postponed.

Announcing the dismissals Saturday, Yeltsin's press service gave no explanations, but said the three officials were moving to "new jobs." However, the press service did not clarify which other posts they would take.

During a government meeting last week to assess Russia's economic performance, Yeltsin had threatened to sack three Cabinet ministers, but had left the meeting without making names.

Russia's independent NTV television yesterday said Yeltsin had decided whom to fire before the cabinet session, but had postponed announcing his decision until after his meetings with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who was in Russia for his first state visit last week.

Addressing the Thursday government session, Chernomyrdin had criticized various aspects of the government's performance in 1997, particularly efforts to boost tax collection, foreign trade and cooperation with other CIS members. His remarks fueled speculation that Serov, as well as Foreign Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov and State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok would soon loose their jobs.

Today, Yeltsin denied that the replacements were anything beyond ordinary personnel rotations. The Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying "What reorganization? Ministers come and ministers go."

The three officials sacked -- Serov, Tsakh and Kinelev -- are all considered relatively minor figures in the government. Speculation about Serov's dismissal had circulated widely in the Russian media since a CIS summit last October, at which other CIS leaders strongly criticized Russia over its failure to implement previous agreements, and for trying to establish a dominating role in this loose alliance of former Soviet republics.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov yesterday criticized the Saturday dismissals, and accused Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin of ignoring the people's will in the reshuffle. Zyuganov said that the President and the Prime Minister "have forgotten how to listen to the country and have taken a course in neglecting public opinion."

Zyuganov also said that the sackings were irrelevant, and were aimed at strengthening the government's liberal and pro-reform wing. He expressed regret that Yeltsin did not fire First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov and others described as reformers, who he said were responsible for Russia's economic decline. According to Zyuganov, Chubais and Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, have "ruined the economy," while Nemtsov and deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev are incapable of solving problems in the energy sector and social policy.

State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, also a Communist, told ITAR-TASS while visiting Kuwait, that he was "surprised" Urinson was not fired, since, in his view, the Economics Ministry has "failed to implement" government policies.