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Monday, 9 August, 1999, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Stepashin: A reluctant prime minister
Sergei Stepashin (left) - Loyal follower of President Yeltsin
Soft-spoken and baby-faced, Sergei Stepashin earned a reputation as a political hawk and a loyal ally of President Boris Yeltsin.

Russia crisis
But when he was named prime minister following the sacking of Yevgeny Primakov in May, he reportedly told colleagues that he had appealed to the President not to offer him the job.

When the appointment was made public, Mr Stepashin joined most of Russia's political elite in expressing surprise.

"This was an unexpected decision," he said, urging members of the former cabinet to stay in place.

Mr Stepashin began his three-month tenure as Prime Minister after being elevated to the powerful interior minister where he commanded hundreds of thousands of troops and more than one million police.

Showdown

Mr Stepashin joined President Boris Yeltsin's government in 1993 while the most significant showdown with the Communist-controlled parliament to date loomed.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Mr Stepashin bailed out of parliament rather than challenge the president. Not long after, Mr Yeltsin stormed the White House with government tanks.

Hardline over Chechnya

Mr Stepashin joined Russia's security agencies, a move which led him to become both spymaster and commander of the government's burgeoning Interior Ministry troops and police.

As head of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, Mr Stepashin was one of the principal architects of Russia's disastrous war in Chechnya.

In 1995, Mr Stepashin was among several officials fired for his role in a botched attempt to free hostages seized by Chechen fighters in the southern Russia town of Budennovsk.

But Mr Stepashin bounced back in 1997 with his appointment as Minister of Justice.

At the Justice Ministry, Mr Stepashin oversaw the transfer of Russia's notoriously overcrowded prisons from the Interior Ministry and pledged to bring prison conditions up to western European standards.

Musical chairs

Mr Stepashin took over as Interior Minister in March 1998 after President Yeltsin sacked former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

But Mr Stepashin again had to face problems over Chechnya, which now claims full independence from Moscow.

In the past year, Chechen criminal gangs living off hostage-taking have kidnapped senior Russian officials, foreigners and ordinary Russians in and around the turbulent region.

His two biggest investigations in the past year - the shooting dead of prominent anti-corruption politician Galina Starovoitova and a fire that swept through the Interior Ministry headquarters in Samara, killing 68 people - both remain unsolved.

See also:

27 Oct 98 | Russia crisis
10 Apr 99 | Europe
06 Feb 99 | Europe
12 Apr 99 | Europe
12 May 99 | Europe
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