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Yeltsin's Pointless Purge

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MOSCOW: No one will accuse Boris Yeltsin of going gently into that good night -- but no amount of raging can reverse the passing of his political light. Russiaĺs ailing figurehead heaved himself out of his hospital bed Monday morning, went to the Kremlin to fire his three closest aides, and was back in bed in time for lunch. "Yeltsin is desperate to prove that he's still in charge, but nobody will be convinced by this," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "He has little power left and Prime Minister Primakov is running the country independently -- not that Yeltsin has any clear ideas to impose on the situation even if he could."

Top dog among the fired aides was Valentin Yumashev, Yeltsin's chief of staff and link to tycoon kingmaker Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky, however, had stopped depending on Yeltsin to protect his interests some time ago. "The aides axed by Yeltsin were once at the epicenter of power in Russia," says Quinn-Judge, "but this year they've been increasingly irrelevant." Still, for an ailing Russian leader there's no tonic quite like a good purge.