Russia’s political elite and media were focused today on President Boris Yeltsin’s decision to fire the heads of his administration. Yesterday, the Russian head of state returned to the Kremlin from the Central Clinical Hospital, where he was recuperating from pneumonia, in order to announce his personnel changes, after which he returned to the hospital. Yeltsin, saying he wanted “firm discipline, order and reform” in the Kremlin, removed the head of the presidential administration, Valentin Yumashev, along with three deputy administration heads–Yevgeny Savostyanov, Mikhail Komissar and Yuri Yarov. Yeltsin also signed a decree placing the justice ministry and the tax police under his direct control (see the Monitor, December 7). According to Yeltsin’s spokesman, Dmitri Yakushkin, the moves were connected to Yeltsin’ belief that the fight against “corruption, economic crime and separatism” must be stepped up (Russian agencies, December 7). As for the timing of the move, an unidentified Kremlin source explained in an interview that “the president is accustomed to making big decisions on Mondays” (Russian agencies, December 7).
As various media noted, Yeltsin now has fifteen ministries and agencies under his direct control–the bulk of them so-called “power” ministries, responsible for defense and law-enforcement functions. These include the Defense Ministry, in charge of the armed forces; the Interior Ministry, in charge of the police; and the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s special services. Before leaving the Kremlin yesterday (December 7), Yeltsin also fired Aleksandr Starovoitov, head of the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI), which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. National Security Agency. Vladislav Sherstyuk, who was one of Starovoitov’s deputies, will now head FAPSI (Russian agencies, December 7). In a televised clip of the Kremlin meeting in which the changes were announced, the president stressed that “all power ministries are subordinated to the president, including [the ministry of] justice and the tax police” (NTV, December 7).
The new head of the presidential administration, Nikolai Bordyuzha, will continue to serve simultaneously as secretary of the Security Council, Yeltsin’s powerful advisory body. Prior to being brought into the Security Council this past January, Bordyuzha was deputy chief of Russia’s Border Guards Service, with the rank of general. His elevation to presidential administration chief led “Izvestia” today to refer to the administration’s “militarization” (Izvestia, December 9). On Monday, Bordyuzha chaired a meeting of the remaining heads of the administration, a meeting devoted to discussing steps aimed at “strengthening coordination” in the fight against political extremism and corruption (Russian agencies, December 7). Bordyuzha himself told NTV television: “Fighting corruption is very important today, including in the upper echelons of power.” He also stressed the need for discipline within the administration, stating that “all decisions at the highest levels” should be “implemented unswervingly and promptly, without discussion” (NTV, December 7).
…WHILE MEDIA AND POLITICAL ELITE WEIGH IN WITH THEIR INTERPRETATIONS.