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Russia: Vladivostok Residents Criticize Primakov Dismissal

The dismissal this week of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has thrown the political situation in Moscow into a new round of upheaval. Our correspondent, speaking with residents of one Far Eastern city, has found that the move is widely unpopular thousands of kilometers away from the capital.

Vladivostok, 14 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Residents of Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok are expressing everything from nonchalance to exasperation after President Boris Yeltsin dismissed his third government in 15 months. Everything, it seems, except support.

Following the news earlier this week that Yeltsin had fired Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and most of his cabinet, local residents speaking with our Vladivostok correspondent regularly characterize the shakeup as the action of a faltering president.

Yeltsin dismissed the entire cabinet except for First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, whom he wishes to promote to prime minister, and Railroads Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who is to be deputy prime minister.

Valery Mozgovoi, a 26-year-old dentist, said he was unable to discuss the move "without using swear words". Other comments were similar.

In Vladivostok, as in many other Russian regions, Primakov is relatively popular because he is credited with halting the decline of the ruble against the U.S. dollar.

Ivan Ivanov, 59, a retired ship worker in a defense factory, said that "Under Primakov things stabilized". Ivanov added that "Yeltsin should have resigned a long time ago."

At least one voter sympathized with the difficulties Yeltsin faces in governing the country under trying circumstances. Galina Maricheva, a 39-year-old fishmonger who had set up a stand where she was selling tubs of smelt and gray mullet, said the firing was bad for Russia. But she added, "I think Yeltsin cannot really do anything to improve the situation in the country, because there is dishonesty everywhere."

In the view of Alexei Golubotsky, a 17-year-old schoolboy who is studying to become a welder, the firing was wrong. "Under Primakov, life became a little bit better," he said. Golubotsky said his parents had begun to receive their salaries more regularly and expressed uncertainty over what will happen next.

Some central newspapers echoed that sentiment. According to Trud, a moderate Moscow newspaper reportedly financed by the gas giant "Gazprom", there was noticeable industrial growth in the first quarter in 44 of Russia's 89 regions.

The local daily "Vladivostok" noted this week that Yeltsin has approval ratings of three percent and Primakov's hover around 67 percent. The paper went on to say "it's high time to acknowledge that the only concern of the president is his own power and preserving the wealth of his own family, even at the cost of the collapse of Russia."

The firing drew criticism also from the Primorye regional Duma. Although it had been rumored for weeks, Duma Speaker Sergei Dudnik expressed alarm about what he called "the hastiness of the decision" to dismiss Primakov. He also said his view is widely shared.

In a statement released by his office, Dudnik said he knew the opinion of members of Russia's Federation Council, and added that "the absolute majority is against such extraordinary measures".

He said that the dismissals "promote economic and political instability and suggest that the president is trying to seize absolute power in Russia". Dudnik went on to say "There shouldn't be absolute power, neither in the government nor in local places."

However, most people's reaction boils down to more immediate concerns. Tatiana Lipchenko, a 32-year-old school psychologist, said she respected Primakov and felt shame for her country over his firing. And she worries about what the future holds for her daughter.

Lipchenko said that her daughter "is only in first grade right now," and expressed the hope that "during the time she grows up, life in Russia will become easier."

Andrew Fox, head of the Vladivostok firm Tiger Securities, says his clients -- foreign investors in Russia-- are showing little concern about the renewed political instability.

He says people who invest through Tiger understand the risks inherent in Russian stocks. Fox said those who were wary were already waiting until after the presidential election due next year before deciding whether to resume investing in Russia.

According to Fox, the bigger effect may be in Primorye's relation to Moscow. He said the region's governor "has been putting a lot of effort into developing ties with Primakov".