Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Government Denies Shake-Up Talk

Government officials denied Wednesday that a full-scale Cabinet overhaul was in the works, with newly promoted First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin saying he was not a "reserve prime minister" ready to push out Yevgeny Primakov.

President Boris Yeltsin's firing on Tuesday of Vadim Gustov, a Primakov appointee, and the promotion of presidential ally Stepashin set off a burst of speculation Yeltsin was gearing up for a full-scale attack on Primakov.

But Prime Minister Primakov dismissed talk of a shake-up, saying he had been told of Gustov's removal ahead of time and saw it as "a normal change."

Stepashin, who will stay on as interior minister, said he was "not a reserve anything" and that he enjoyed good relations with Primakov, Interfax reported.

That did not halt a flood of speculation that Yeltsin was readying more changes. "Yeltsin will push Primakov out of the White House, by surrounding him with deputy premiers who are loyal to the Kremlin - and one of whom will become the new head of the government," daily Kommersant wrote Thursday.

Yeltsin is clearly uncomfortable with Primakov's enhanced role and political observers have been widely predicting that Yeltsin will fire him or several of his left-wing ministers, which would undermine Primakov's support in parliament's communist-run lower house.

Yeltsin handed off much of the day-to-day responsibility for running the country to Primakov during several months of illness and inactivity. But the president now seems determined to recover his lost authority.

The second-ranking Communist leader, Duma Deputy Valentin Kuptsov, predicted Yeltsin would fire the whole Cabinet by the end of May, Interfax reported. Kuptsov said that the promotion of Stepashin, who as interior minister is the nation's top police official, showed that Yeltsin was tightening control over the security apparatus.

Kuptsov called the move "preparations for whatever extraordinary action the president may take, in particular the imposition of emergency rule and dismissal of the Cabinet."

There has been speculation that Yeltsin wanted a loyal deputy prime minister in place so that if Primakov were forced out, he could appoint his deputy as the acting prime minister.

Stepashin said his first priority in his new role would be working with the regions, taking over Gustov's primary assignment.

Another job will be making sure that criminals do not come to power in State Duma elections in December, he said.

"Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] does not want crooks, criminals and bandits to get into the election," he said. "I will work on this both as first deputy prime minister and as interior minister."