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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Lays Into NATO For Raids

President Boris Yeltsin used strong words Tuesday to condemn NATO's military campaign against Yugoslavia - even as his foreign minister was agreeing to a cease-fire plan that would enforce most of NATO's demands.

Speaking at a Kremlin ceremony where he received diplomats' credentials, Yeltsin said NATO's air war was "aggression" that had "seriously complicated the international situation."

"The world has been presented with yet another attempt to install the dictate of force," Yeltsin said. "The pillars of international law and the UN Charter have been trampled upon."

Yeltsin, however, did not say publicly what he thought of the peace proposal. His own handpicked representative, Viktor Chernomyrdin, played a large role in achieving the peace deal, which has come under fire from communists and nationalists at home.

Yeltsin's criticism of the deal may reflect its unpopularity in Russian military circles, allowing him to deflect criticism from himself to Chernomyrdin and preserve his option to repudiate it later. He engaged in similar behavior over the August 1996 peace deal that ended the war in Chechnya, keeping silent for weeks following the deal.

The Kremlin press service said Yeltsin, during a telephone conversation with U.S. President Bill Clinton, "approved the agreement reached ... with the active participation of Russian representatives."

Yeltsin told Clinton that the agreement was a basis for immediately halting the airstrikes, which Russia has opposed since they began March 24.

Yeltsin's sharp criticism of NATO coincided with a wave of discontent in the Communist-dominated State Duma, where deputies scheduled a vote for Wednesday on a resolution calling for Chernomyrdin's dismissal as envoy to the Balkans.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov called Chernomyrdin a ***spetsprovokator*** or "special instigator," another play on his title as special representative to add to the "special traitor" moniker applied to him last week. The Communists say Yeltsin went along with what they consider NATO's aggression by forcing the alliance's terms on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Those terms included withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo and a NATO-led peacekeeping force, both goals which NATO says it has achieved in the Bonn agreement.

While Yeltsin dealt with foreign policy, his staff maneuvered on the domestic scene, dropping hints that new Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin might be his chosen successor after his term expires in the middle of next year.

Presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin was quoted in an interview with Izvestia as saying that "a man who becomes the prime minister a year before the elections must have presidential ambitions." Voloshin said Stepashin could become the official candidate supported by the Kremlin.

Anatoly Chubais, head of state-owned United Energy Systems electrical utility and a Kremlin insider, also touched on Stepashin's presidential possibilities in an interview for Kommersant newspaper.

"As for Stepashin, he has a potential to become the president, I have no doubts about it," Chubais said. "However, it is only a potential so far."

Those statements drew a sardonic response from Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, who noted that Yeltsin has a habit of building subordinates up only to fire them later.

"You will remember that when anyone would become his successor, Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] would remove him from the office within three or four months," Seleznyov said.

The list of Kremlin favorites dumped by Yeltsin is a long one. It includes Chernomyrdin, dumped as prime minister when he appeared to be overeager to be the successor; former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and former Presidential Security Council secretary Alexander Lebed, now governor of the Krasnoyarsk region.

Stepashin also signed an order outlining the division of responsibility within the Cabinet, a subject of fierce infighting while the new government team was being put together.

First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko will oversee the cash-rich "natural monopolies" such as fuels and energy, electricity, transport and telecommunications. He will also oversee the federal migration service and the bankruptcy agency, plus a scattering of lesser agencies such as the weather forecasting service.

In addition to having overall charge of the Cabinet, Stepashin will coordinate the work of the foreign policy and security bureaucracies, including the ministries of foreign affairs, defense, emergency situations, the interior and justice, plus the border guards and the intelligence agencies.

He will also oversee the agencies and ministries controlling state property, nationalities, finances and taxes. Stepashin and the other first deputy prime minister, Viktor Khristenko, are widely seen as forming one faction against Aksyonenko, who is reported in the Russian press to be the favorite of Yeltsin's inner circle, dubbed "the family." Newspaper reports indicate that the two have roughly split control of the the desirable economic ministries.

Stepashin's order also spelled out the responsibilities of Ilya Klebanov, who holds the new post of deputy prime minister for defense-related matters. He will oversee the ministry of atomic energy, plus the agencies dealing with space and aviation, shipbuilding, conventional weapons, control systems, ammunition, basic research and nuclear safety.