Yeltsin's latest firings surprise few in Washington
August 9, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The latest in a seemingly endless shuffling of cabinet positions within Russia's government raised few eyebrows in Washington on Monday, as the Clinton administration said it expected to maintain good relations with Moscow.
"We work with Russian ministers based on policies, not personalities," said National Security Counsel spokesman David Leavy, giving the official White House response.
Administration officials told CNN they had expected for days that Russian President Boris Yeltsin would replace Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and his entire Cabinet.
Stepashin was replaced was replaced with Vladimir Putin, 46, the head of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, the Soviet-era spy agency.
"This is now the fifth prime minister in a year and a half, but it's important to recognize that this was clearly done within the boundaries of their constitution," cautioned Vice President Al Gore.
One senior U.S. official, however, called the situation in Moscow "chaos."
The official said there was "a brief glimmer of hope" for economic reform under Stepashin. But "in reality, there is no policy," because there can't be economic stability without political stability -- and there is no political stability on the horizon, the official said.
Asked about possible U.S. concerns over instability in Russia after Yeltsin's unexpected action -- the fourth time in 17 months he has fired a government -- Leavy replied, "It's not for us to judge that."
"We've had a good relationship with Prime Minister Stepashin, I'm sure we'll have a relationship with Mr. Putin," he said.
U.S. officials said they were reassured when Yeltsin reaffirmed his intention to hold Duma elections as scheduled in December. The Duma is the lower house of Russia's parliament.
Two weeks ago, as Stepashin visited Washington, the United States and Russia agreed to begin a new round of negotiations this month to reduce the number of their long-range nuclear weapons.
With Stepashin out, U.S. officials said delays on arms-control talks were inevitable. But Leavy said Washington would continue to urge Russia's parliament to ratify the START 2 arms reduction treaty.
Correspondents Chris Black and John King contributed to this report.
Yeltsin, Stepashin ready to begin work in Russia
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