Another Russian Prime Minister Bites the Dust

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Boris Yeltsin got up on the wrong side of bed Wednesday, so he fired his government for the third time in 18 months. "There's no logic or reason in this," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "The decision to fire Yevgeny Primakov is based entirely on Yeltsin's emotions -- his irritation at the prime minister's independence and lack of deference to him, and Yeltsin's characteristic vindictiveness toward anyone who threatens to overshadow him." Of course it might also be intended as a reminder to the legislature, which has begun impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin, of the president's almost czarist constitutional powers and his apparently boundless capacity for wacky political behavior.

Yeltsin explained the move by accusing Primakov of failing to revive Russia's crippled economy -- which is not unlike berating a man for failing to defy gravity -- but that's not borne out by his choice of successor: "The new appointment as prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, is a man without any economic background but with a well-deserved reputation for bungling," says Quinn-Judge. "The Duma is unlikely to approve Stepashin, and that sets the stage for another period of prolonged political paralysis in Russia." One Yeltsin objective may, however backfire: The ailing president had hoped that by firing Primakov he could undercut the prime minister's presidential aspirations in the 2000 election; but Yeltsin's approval ratings are so low that he may have only succeeded in boosting Primakov's chances.