Moscow, 12 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today dismissed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and appointed Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin as acting Prime Minister. Yeltsin said in a statement that the economy had not improved under Primakov. The sacking comes as the State Duma -- the leftist-dominated lower house of parliament -- prepares to start impeachment debates against Yeltsin tomorrow. Correspondents say Primakov's sacking could be an attempt by Yeltsin to avoid impeachment.
Under the Russian constitution, the president may dissolve parliament if he appoints a prime minister who fails to win confirmation in three parliamentary votes. Yeltsin already has formally submitted Stepashin's nomination to the Duma.
But parliamentarians insist Yeltsin loses his right to dissolve the assembly once impeachment proceedings are launched.
Gennady Zyuganov, who heads the Duma's Communist faction, insisted today the impeachment hearings will go ahead. Zyuganov said Primakov's sacking increases the chances of a successful impeachment vote. The leftist opposition wants Yeltsin impeached on five counts, including instigating the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and launching the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya.
Primakov's firing put pressure on European stock markets today. Europe's common "euro" currency weakened sharply against the U.S. dollar. European traders said the main concern is that a change of government in Russia could harm prospects for a Kosovo peace settlement. Within an hour of Primakov's sacking, the cost of one euro fell from 1.072 to 1.068 dollars.
In Moscow, key Russian stocks plunged by as much as eight percent after Primakov's sacking was announced. Shares in Mosenergo and LUKoil fell by about six percent. Shares in Surgutneftegaz and Russian Unified Energy Systems lost nearly eight percent of their value in Moscow's morning trading. Russian eurobonds also fell on news of the political crisis.
Yuri Maslyukov, Russia's chief negotiator with the IMF, said today that Primakov's sacking means the Kremlin will have to renegotiate many issues with the International Monetary Fund in order to unblock loan installments that have been frozen since the collapse of the ruble last August. Reports indicate that the IMF and Primakov's government had been close to reaching a new agreement but nothing has been finalised.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin today also appointed railways minister Nikolai Aksenenko as First Deputy Prime Minister. Itar-tass reports that the deputy head of the Kremlin administration, Oleg Sysuyev, resigned after Primakov's sacking was announced. The news agency says further cabinet changes are expected.
In a statement, Yeltsin said that he made "a difficult decision" and "relieved" Primakov of his duties. Yeltsin praised Primakov for his role in stabilizing Russia's political situation but said that the economy was not improving.
Primakov yesterday told leaders of the leftist-dominated Duma that he was "categorically opposed" to moves to impeach Yeltsin.