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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Cabinet Changes Despite Yeltsin Threat




After threatening to swiftly fire three Cabinet ministers, President Boris Yeltsin seemed in no hurry Friday to shuffle his government, turning his attention instead to improving relations with Ukraine.


Despite his blustery rhetoric of the day before, Yeltsin gave no hints about potential changes in the Cabinet. "We will inform you'' of any ousters, his spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said, Itar-Tass reported.


Yeltsin opened a public Cabinet meeting Thursday by saying three ministers might lose their jobs by the end of the session. But he abruptly left without firing anyone, and the meeting went on without him.


Yeltsin likes to shuffle his subordinates from time to time, and often criticizes them for causing the country's problems. He has been threatening government changes since last fall.


Holding the threat of dismissal over officials' heads is one of his ways of keeping them on their toes, analysts say.


Interfax reported Thursday that Yeltsin would decide Friday who would be fired. But nothing was announced.


Still in suspense, the government was left Friday to wrestle with the thorny question of when and where to bury the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Yeltsin had turned the decision over to the Cabinet earlier in the week.


Also Friday, Yeltsin met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and proclaimed afterward that "there are no unsettled problems any more" in the sometimes tense relationship, Itar-Tass reported.


The two countries have been at odds over the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea and Ukraine's natural-gas debts to Russia. There was no word that Yeltsin and Kuchma had finally resolved those disagreements, but the two sides signed a long-term agreement on economic cooperation to run through 2007. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembsky said Ukraine affirmed it had no intention of joining NATO, although there was no immediate confirmation of this from Ukrainian officials.


Kuchma previously has said Ukraine would remain neutral for the foreseeable future. But unlike Russia, Ukraine has not opposed NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, and it angered Moscow last year by holding joint naval exercises with NATO in the Black Sea.


Yastrzhembsky was quoted as saying the two sides agreed to set up a commission on military cooperation and to work together in developing arms markets.


Yeltsin also gave no indication of plans for any Cabinet changes in his weekly radio address, in which he spoke of theneed for Russia to do more to help support small businesses and foster the growth of a middle class.


"Our citizens today are free to decide for themselves whether they should live on their modest wages, as before, or risk starting their own business, a car repair shop, a photo studio, a private kindergarten," Yeltsin said.


The president acknowledged, however, that small business owners still face unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles and excessive taxes.


Nonetheless, "today a numerous middle class does not appear to be just a dream," the president said. "The picture is changing before our eyes."


Yeltsin said the number of car owners increases by 1 million a year, and that last year 16 million Russians went abroad on business or vacation.


Yeltsin even praised one of his more recently appointed member of the government: Irina Khakamada, head of the State Committee for Support and Development of Small Business.


"That woman only appears to be fragile and vulnerable, but actually her energy and business acumen are well known," Yeltsin said. "I think she will cope with her new job."