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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

Yeltsin Changes Government, Reorganises Agencies

On 23 March, President Yeltsin - returning to the Kremlin after a short illness - sensationally dismissed his entire Government. Yeltsin soon made clear that some members of the Cabinet would be reinstated, but not the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, whose successor, subject to Parliamentary approval, was named as Sergei Kiriyenko, aged 35, previously Minister for Fuel and Energy. Earlier in March, Chernomyrdin had met US Vice President Al Gore for the tenth session of the US-Russia commission on cooperation popularly known as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission (see Documents and Sources for details of the meeting, and text of a statement issued by Gore following Chernomyrdin's dismissal).

The principal cause of Yeltsin's unhappiness with the Chernomyrdin Government was its handling of economic reform, rather than foreign and defence policy. On the day of the announcement, the President's chief spokesperson, Sergei Yaztrzhembsky, told reporters that "Russian foreign policy is based on long-term national interests, and changes in the government cannot influence its course."

It was quickly apparent that key personnel, as well as key policies, would not be changing. The Foreign Minister, Yevgeniy Primakov, was in Cuba when the news broke. He calmly told a press conference:

"They have just told me that a Government is about to be formed. It seems to me that at this session the Foreign Minister will not be replaced. So if there were people hoping for that, then, for the time being and temporarily, I must disappoint them..." The next day, Primakov met with US Secretary of State Albright in Cologne. Speaking together after their meeting, Primakov stated that Yeltsin "has instructed me to underscore the fact that Russia's foreign policy will remain unchanged and will not be affected by changes in the Government..."

The dismissal of the Government had followed an important reshuffle at the end of February and beginning of March which saw (2 March) the dismissal of the Atomic Energy Minister, Viktor Mikhailov. According to a Kremlin statement, Mikhailov was relieved of his position "due to a transfer to scientific work." On 4 March, Mikhailov's successor was named as Yevgeniy Adamov, aged 58, a prominent nuclear scientist. According to Adamov, quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency, Yeltsin had told him his priority was the maintenance of Russia's nuclear stockpile "even though the funds and the means to achieve it might be reduced."

On 3 March, Yeltsin announced an important reorganisation of Russian security agencies: the absorption of two previously independent agencies, the Defence Council and the State Military Inspectorate, are to be absorbed into the Security Council, directly answerable to the President. A new head of the Security Council was also named: Andrei Kokoshin, previously in charge of the two subsumed organisations. Reports suggested that the remit of the Security Council would now narrow, no longer including general foreign, and even economic, policy and focusing on military security and safety issues. According to Yastrzhembsky, the reorganisation is "aimed at a closer coordination of efforts toward reforming the whole system of defense and security."

Reports: Yeltsin names Cabinet replacements, Associated Press, 2 March; Yeltsin merges security agencies, Associated Press, 3 March; Yeltsin names Russian nuclear chief, Associated Press, 4 March; US, Russia to talk nuclear safety, Associated Press, 6 March; Yeltsin fires Cabinet, Reuters, 23 March; Kremlin - Russian Foreign Policy unchanged, Reuters, 23 March; Text - Press Conference with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov, United States Information Service, 24 March; Yeltsin to keep key government members, Associated Press, 24 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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