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Russia: Yeltsin Says New Prime Minister Should Be Next President

Moscow, 9 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin now says that his new choice for prime minister, the nation's security chief and former Soviet spy Vladimir Putin, is also his preferred choice to succeed him as chief of state. Yeltsin's remarks followed his firing earlier today of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and his cabinet and nomination of Putin as new prime minister. Putin said today that the fighting in Dagestan had contributed to Stepashin's sudden ouster. Stepashin, who was sacked after only three months in office, told a final meeting of his cabinet: "I think Russia could really lose Dagestan."

In Dagestan, both Russian security forces and armed Islamic insurgents today sent reinforcements to the mountainous Botlikha district, where the rebels hold several villages. Russian armed forces chief of staff General Anatoly Kvashnin narrowly escaped injury when his helicopter was shot at by rebels as it landed at Botlikha airport.

In Washington, the Clinton administration reacted cautiously today saying that it is ready to work with Yeltsin's new choice. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said its relations with Moscow will not change because it is concerned with issues and not personalities. The IMF last month approved a $4.5 billion standby loan to support Russia's economic program in the coming financial year. European Union leaders also said they do not expect ties with Russia to change.

Yeltsin says his new prime minister, Putin, is capable of uniting Russian society and assuring continued reforms. Putin's nomination must be confirmed by the State Duma, which is expected to start considerations next Monday.

The 47-year-old Putin is a former high-ranking Soviet spy who served as a senior KGB agent in Germany, and later, as an aide to Saint Peterburg's mayor. For the past year, he has headed Russia's Federal Security Service -- the KGB's main successor.

Ukrainian presidential spokesman Olexander Martynenko said Kyiv hopes the change will not result in political or economic instability. Ukraine's economy is closely linked to events in Russia.

In Minsk, Belarus' President Alyaksandr Lukashenka expressed regret over Yeltsin's decision but said the situation should not be over dramatised. Armenia's Foreign Ministry said it is monitoring developments, and Kazakhstan said the change is Russia's internal affair.