Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday moved Sergei Stepashin from his post as justice minister and appointed him acting interior minister, replacing Andrei Kulikov, whom Yeltsin sacked last week. Stepashin and Kulikov had clashed repeatedly in recent months over who should manage Russia’s prisons: Russia undertook to transfer them from police to civilian control when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996, but Kulikov dragged his feet over executing the change.
Stepashin, 46, headed the Federal Security Service (counterintelligence heir to the KGB) from 1994-95. In that capacity, he was a hawk on Russia’s war against Chechnya. He was sacked by Yeltsin in the summer of 1995 in the wake of his bungled attempt to free hostages seized by Chechen guerrillas in southern Russia. Since then, Stepashin claims to have realized that military intervention in Chechnya was a mistake never to be repeated.
Stepashin said yesterday that the transfer of the prisons would "now proceed more calmly," but that he is not planning a drastic shake-up in the Interior Ministry. According to Kommersant-daily, however, Stepashin’s first task will be to clean up corruption within the top echelons of that ministry. The usually well-informed newspaper reported yesterday that the real reason for Kulikov’s dismissal was a major Interior Ministry corruption scandal in which Kulikov himself had reportedly come under investigation. (Kommersant-daily, March 28)
UN Secretary General in Moscow.