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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK


World: Europe

Russian media 'not surprised'



While the sacking of Mr Stepashin is shocking for some, the Russian media like to point out that it was not entirely unexpected.

The RIA Novosti news agency quotes an adviser to the former prime minister as saying that Mr Stepashin and his staff knew about the imminent decision by President Yeltsin "long ago".

As a result, the Russian newspapers and TV channels have been discussing the possibility of yet another prime minister leaving the office for about two weeks. And according to the Park.ru news service, Mr Stepashin's latest tour of the country was an attempt to earn back President Yeltsin's backing - a mission in which he failed.

The influential Kommersant daily wrote last week that the ongoing battle between the Kremlin and the powerful Most media group can lead to either Sergei Stepashin or Alexander Voloshin, the head of president's administration, being sacked.

Unfortunately, the Kommersant misread the signs coming from the Kremlin, as it wrongly concluded that it was Mr Voloshin who would lose his job, since he had been recently vilified by the Russian media.

However, the Kremlin politics are notoriously erratic, and the Kommersant might yet prove right.

The Gazeta.ru reports: "On the whole, the government headquarters are calm. It would appear that reshuffles at the top power level are no longer seen as something out of the ordinary, and they no longer cause the kind of stir that the sacking of Yevgeny Primakov's cabinet caused."

The Park.ru service comments that "the country should probably thank the intriguing famous oligarch Boris Berezovsky for the new government reshuffle".

It explains that mighty Mr Berezovsky who has a great deal of influence in the Yeltsin inner circles and is seen as the top match-maker in Russia, was not happy with Mr Stepashin's apolitical stance.

"A prime minister who is not interested in politics is extremely inconvenient for the people who have their vested interests in the results of the general and presidential elections", writes a Moscow analyst for the Park.ru.

The National News Service quotes the governor of Krasnoyarsk region, Alexander Lebed, as saying that a president who has changed four prime ministers within one year, cannot look good.

"When none of the employees are good enough, then there must be something wrong with the boss," said the former Russian security council chief.

As for the new acting prime minister, the Park.ru comments that Mr. Putin's sudden rise to power is not coincidental, and President Yeltsin might have been sincere when he made it clear that he would like to see Vladimir Putin as the next Russian president.

"Only a trusted person from one of the "power ministries" can ensure the safety of Yeltsin's entourage after his term in office, and the former FSB boss can prove indispensable," writes the Park.ru. The Russian media are understandably sceptical as to how long the new prime minister will manage to stay in the office.

According to the popular Gazera.ru "it is obvious that there is too little time left before the parliamentary elections, for the president to make new changes in the government without causing major problems for the country".



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