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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stepashin Appointed Acting Interior Minister

Sergei Stepashin, a loyal aide to President Boris Yeltsin and one of the men who masterminded Russia's disastrous war in Chechnya, was named acting interior minister on Monday.

Yeltsin issued a decree stripping Stepashin of his duties as caretaker justice minister and transferring him to the Interior Ministry, the Kremlin press service said. Stepashin replaces Anatoly Kulikov, who was fired outright last week amid rumors that the president believed he was becoming too powerful.

The newly appointed acting minister met Monday with Yeltsin and acting Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko. Until Kiriyenko's nomination is approved by the State Duma, all appointments will be considered temporary.

As chief of the Interior Ministry, Stepashin will report directly to the president. He automatically qualifies for a seat on the powerful presidential Security Council. As well as the regular police force, he will control the Interior Ministry troops, an elite force of 220,000 men that did much of the fighting during the 21-month war in the Chechen republic.

A member of the Cabinet since 1994, Stepashin is viewed as a faithful and versatile Yeltsin aide, but his record is tarnished by his role in the Chechen war.

Many observers say it was flawed intelligence reports provided by Stepashin, then head of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, one of the KGB's successors, that persuaded Yeltsin to order the disastrous invasion of the Chechen capital, Grozny, in December 1994.

In 1995, Yeltsin fired Stepashin, along with Interior Minister Viktor Yerin and Nationalities Minister Nikolai Yegorov, over a bungled operation to drive Chechen guerrillas out of the town of Budyonnovsk in southern Russia. Many civilians, including women and children, were killed when Russian troops stormed the town's hospital where the Chechens were holed up.

After his dismissal, Stepashin dropped from public view, but Yeltsin repaid his loyalty by keeping him in the government. The disgraced security chief took part in Chechen peace negotiations. He also sat on the Kremlin's Defense Council and was chief of the government's administrative department.

He was appointed justice minister last July, replacing Valentin Kovalyov, who was forced from the post after a tabloid newspaper published photographs showing him cavorting with naked women in a sauna.

Interfax quoted Stepashin as telling senior Interior Ministry officials at a meeting Monday not to expect any immediate changes and to continue working as before.