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Russia: Yeltsin Fires Presidential Staffers

Moscow, 7 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who returned briefly to work today from the hospital, carried out an extensive shake-up of his presidential staff. Yeltsin sacked his chief of staff, the first deputy head of the administration, and the head of a government communications agency. Yeltsin's spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin said the reshuffle is designed to improve the "poor" coordination of work in the office. Yeltsin also took personal control of two government organs, the Justice Ministry and the State Tax Service. Yakushkin said that under present circumstances in Russia, power must be concentrated in "one fist."

Yeltsin replaced his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, with Nikolai Bordyuzha, who is also chairman of the Security Council. Yeltsin also replaced the first deputy head of the administration, Yuri Yarov, along with two other aides. Alexander Starovoitov, head of the Federal Agency for Government Communications, also lost his job.

Yakushkin said the reshuffle is also aimed at ending the "neglect of important aspects in the fight against political extremism and corruption." He said extremism and corruption is "impermissible".

While Yeltsin appeared to address political problems, there was no sign of help for Russians who need food aid. In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers today delayed endorsing a $460 million food aid deal for Russia, saying they need more guarantees the aid will reach those who need it.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the ministers wanted to see more independent control over the distribution of hundreds of millions of tons of grain, beef, milk powder and other foodstuffs. He said that the ministers, in principle, favor giving the aid but that many questions need to be answered first.

The food aid plan, drawn up by the EU's Executive Commission, was sent back for further study by EU farm ministers who meet next Monday. Dutch Foreign Minister Jozais van Aartsen said the ministers "cannot simply decide in one afternoon to take some food to Russia."

The EU has been debating the aid package since November 9, four days after the United States announced it would provide Russia with a $600 million food aid package.

Russia's worst grain harvest in 40 years, coming after the summer's financial collapse, have sent prices rising 50 percent and prompted fears the poor won't be able to afford food through the winter.