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Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK

World: Europe

Putin makes tough debut

Putin (left) was called 'the Grey Cardinal' as Yeltsin's security chief

Russia's new Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has been having his first working meeting with President Boris Yeltsin - as leaders of parliament begin discussing whether to approve his appointment.

Russia crisis
Mr Putin, a former Russian security chief, is the fifth Russian prime minister in two years.

He was appointed after the abrupt sacking of Sergei Stepashin by President Yeltsin on Monday.

In a television interview, Mr Putin promised to improve Russian living standards, but warned that those attempting to destabilise the country would go to prison.

Mr Putin spoke of his new challenge, saying he had accepted the post despite having no previous political experience.

But correspondents say it was a sombre and at times chilling performance.

US backing

The BBC's Robert Parsons: "No one is envious of Mr Putin"
The United States has reacted positively to President Yeltsin's decision to appoint Mr Putin as the next prime minister.

A White House spokesman said the US was confident that Washington would work constructively with the new team.

Former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov: "It is difficult to explain Yeltsin's behaviour"
BBC Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds says Mr Putin is well-known to the Americans as he has been involved in bilateral security talks.

It is the fourth time in the past 18 months that Mr Yeltsin has sacked a premier.

Secret knowledge

Mr Putin, 46, has spent much of his life working for the Soviet-era security service, the KGB, before being appointed head of the Russian security service and then of the influential security council.

[ image:  ]
Some analysts have suggested that Mr Putin's tough posture - and his knowledge of many Moscow secrets - may increase his influence over Russia's parliamentarians.

The lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, is to meet next week to vote on whether to confirm Mr Putin's appointment.

Mr Yeltsin said on Monday that he wanted Mr Putin to succeed him as president in next year's elections. Mr Putin immediately responded by saying: ''I shall definitely stand for the post of Russian president."


The BBC's Paul Reynolds: "Washington is trying to take the latest changes in its stride"
Mr Yeltsin also sacked the entire Russian Government but asked the cabinet to stay on temporarily. He has given no reason for the sackings.

The move was branded "100% lunacy" by the Communists who control the largest number of seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

[ image: Sudden removal of Stepashin (left) has not yet been explained]
Sudden removal of Stepashin (left) has not yet been explained
Mr Stepashin, who has been staunchly loyal to Mr Yeltsin, indicated that he was not pleased with his sacking after just three months in the job.

He told the cabinet: "This morning I visited the president and he signed a decree on my resignation. He thanked me for good work - and fired me.

"I honestly expressed my position concerning my resignation...but this is his right as the president and the commander-in-chief. I told the president that I have been, am, and will remain with him until the end."

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