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Russia: New Prime Minister Supports Reform; Yeltsin Questions Peace Efforts

Moscow, 12 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia's newly appointed Acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin has urged the government to stick firmly to market reforms after President Boris Yeltsin today sacked Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Speaking at his first government meeting since his appointment by Yeltsin today, Stepashin said he was surprised by the promotion. Also today, Yeltsin warned that Russia may pull out of Kosovo peace efforts if its proposals are ignored. Russian media quote Yeltsin telling a session of the Russian Security Council that "some people" aren't understanding Russia's repeated proposals for a halt in the bombing." The head of Russia's Federal Security Bureau (FSB) said after the session that Moscow is not satisfied with its role as "technical courier," transporting proposals from one country to another.

During Stepashin's first meeting as acting prime minister, the former interior minister urged other members of the cabinet to stay at their posts. Primakov also spoke at the meeting, supporting Stepashin's candidacy but also defending his eight-month old government's success in restoring political and economic stability. Primakov agreed that ministers should stay in place, emphasizing that Russia cannot afford to be without a working government even for one day.

Meanwhile, Moscow's chief negotiator with the International Monetary Fund, Yuri Maslyukov, says he will not stay in the government. Maslyukov said Primakov's sacking means the government must renegotiate many issues with the IMF in order to start payments on a $4.5 billion credit deal reached last month. That deal is not expected to be finalized by the IMF until the government and the Russian parliament implement major budget and banking sector reforms.

Correspondents say Primakov's sacking could be an attempt by Yeltsin to avoid impeachment. Impeachment hearings are due to start in the Duma tomorrow. Under the Russian constitution, the president may dissolve the Duma if he appoints a prime minister who fails to win confirmation in three parliamentary votes. But Duma deputies insist Yeltsin would lose his right to dissolve the assembly once impeachment proceedings are launched.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea says he hopes the political shake-up announced in Russia today will have no effect on international diplomacy efforts aimed at ending the conflict in Yugoslavia.

NATO repeatedly insists there can be no end to alliance airstrikes until Yugoslavia meets its demands, including a withdrawal of forces from Kosovo, the deployment of an international peacekeeping force and the return of displaced refugees.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said NATO's position remains "clear and firm" and that he is stressing this during his talks in Moscow. Talbott met this morning with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. He also meets special Kosovo envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.

NATO spokesman Shea said today that Chernomyrdin's proposal that the Chinese participate in the peacekeeping force was of interest, adding NATO would wait to see how the idea develops.

Also see previous story: Russia: Primakov Resignation Could Be Impeachment Tactic