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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Reminds Officials to Watch Their Rank




President Boris Yeltsin once again reminded his subordinates that he remains master of the house by ordering a game of musical chairs at a Kremlin meeting Wednesday.


Although the meeting was to map out plans celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity, Yeltsin spent the first few minutes on the seating chart. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, Yeltsin felt, was too far away.


"They are sitting in the wrong way," Yeltsin hissed at Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. "Stepashin is the first deputy. Sergei Vadimovich," Yeltsin commanded to Stepashin, "change your seat."


The reshuffle ended with Stepashin two seats away from Yeltsin, next to Primakov. The chair on the other side of the president was occupied by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II. Kremlin advisers Oleg Sysuyev and Andrei Loginov ended up changing seats in response to the presidential order.


"Well, now it seems there are no more mistakes," Yeltsin grinned, after all the officials were situated around the table.


Stepashin, considered Yeltsin's closest ally in the Cabinet, was promoted to the post of first deputy prime minister last week.


The move was widely regarded as a move by Yeltsin to undercut Primakov, whose influence grew during the president's recent spell of inactivity and illness. Stepashin also kept his position as Russia's interior minister.


A more energetic Yeltsin has recently tried to restore his lost standing, and the news media have been full of speculation he may dismiss Primakov or several of his ministers.


Yeltsin's continued his show of displeasure with Primakov when the meeting participants finally moved to the discussion of preparations for the celebrations. The president abruptly interrupted Primakov's report.


"But the plan has not been coordinated with the Patriarchate," Yeltsin said with a scowl, even before Primakov had finished going through the list.


"So, I'm saying that in the final version it will include all these points," Primakov replied.


As if in answer to Yeltsin, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov defended the prime minister, who was chosen in September as a compromise between Yeltsin and the Communist-run State Duma, the lower house of parliament.


"Primakov's government is the first coalition government of the last eight years. ... In the case that the president does dismiss Primakov's Cabinet after all, it will be the president's last exercise," Zyuganov was quoted as saying by Interfax. Zyuganov did not explain what he meant by "last exercise." Zyuganov and his Communist faction in the Duma are the driving force behind impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin. A vote is scheduled for May 12.


Impeachment is not considered likely to pass the upper house and court review. But it could provoke Yeltsin into firing the Cabinet, in which case the Duma could trigger new elections by refusing to approve a successor.