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YELTSIN FIRES HARD-LINERS IN KREMLIN PURGE.

Byline: Inga Saffron Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

Boris N. Yeltsin sacked his trusted chief bodyguard and two other hard-liners from his administration Thursday, after a long-simmering Kremlin power struggle burst into the open on national television just before dawn and briefly threatened to disrupt the July 3 presidential runoff.

The dismissals were prompted by a series of tangled events that began Wednesday evening, when two liberal campaign aides were detained and interrogated for 11 hours by Yeltsin's own security forces inside the Russian White House.

The situation was so alarming that Yeltsin's new national security adviser, Alexander Lebed, went on television just before sunrise Thursday to dispel rumors that the election was about to be canceled. ``Attempts are being made to wreck the second round (of the election), that is my first impression,'' he told an interviewer.

By midday, Yeltsin apparently felt he had no choice but to fire the security chiefs responsible for the provocative detentions: his closest adviser and bodyguard, Lt. Gen. Alexander Korzhakov, and secret service director Mikhail Barsukov. He also sacked their Cabinet-level ally, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets.

``We need to change the staff and get fresh people,'' Yeltsin told journalists in a vaguely worded statement.

But his intentions did not seem vague. Since placing first in the preliminary round of voting Sunday, Yeltsin has moved with surprising speed to remove the three most powerful figures in the Kremlin - all of whom happen to control sizable armed forces.

Yeltsin started by firing Defense Minister Pavel Grachev on Tuesday, and then followed up Thursday with Korzhakov, whose presidential guard service had swelled to 20,000 men, and Barsukov, whose ran the agency that succeeded the KGB.

Although Korzhakov's job was to protect Yeltsin's personal security, he was also his closest friend, confidant, tennis partner and drinking buddy. Standing by Yeltsin's side nearly every minute for the past 15 years, he came to wield enormous influence on matters having nothing to do with the president's physical safety. Last month, Korzhakov caused an uproar by suggesting that Yeltsin should cancel the presidential elections, and was harshly reprimanded.

The same day Yeltsin fired Grachev he brought in Lebed, a corruption-fighting outsider, to coordinate all national security matters. The alliance with Lebed, a charismatic retired general who finished third Sunday, was meant to boost Yeltsin's chances in the runoff against Communist Gennady Zyuganov.

``Lebed's appointment was a catalyst for what happened yesterday,'' said Igor Malashenko, a television executive who is Yeltsin's campaign media consultant. ``Korzhakov and Barsukov thought they were losing ground to Lebed and decided to move quickly.''

Unlike Lebed, who is an advocate of market reforms, all four officials fired this week were resistant to democratic and economic reforms. But the dismissals appear to be less about Yeltsin's commitment to progress than the result of a fierce power struggle between the Kremlin's liberal and authoritarian cliques.

Since launching the war in Chechnya in December 1994, Yeltsin had drifted under the influence of the hard-liners. But early this year he realized that he needed the reformers' expertise to win re-election, said Malashenko, one of the liberals who agreed to help.

For most of the campaign, an uneasy truce reigned between the Western-oriented liberals, who were determined to win a fair election, and the hard-liners, who were skeptical about the whole business.

AT A GLANCE The three powerful, hard-line members of President Boris Yeltsin's administration fired Thursday:

ALEXANDER KORZHAKOV, 46: Yeltsin's shadowy bodyguard, confidant and friend. Wielded enormous power in the Kremlin as head of the presidential security service. Last month suggested the presidential vote be called off, warning that an election would lead to violence. Former KGB agent, Yeltsin's bodyguard since he first came to Moscow in 1985. When Yeltsin expelled from Politburo in 1987, Korzhakov went with him, offering to work without pay.

GEN. MIKHAIL BARSUKOV, 48: Head of the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB, since July. Rose through the ranks of Kremlin guards to become commander in June 1992. Commanded elite troops in October 1993 attack against Yeltsin's armed foes in parliament building. Yeltsin loyalist and Korzhakov ally.

OLEG SOSKOVETS, 47: Former metals industry boss appointed first deputy prime minister in January 1994. In charge of ministries of Energy, Transport, Communications, Railway, Construction, Health Care and Medical Industry, and Nuclear Power.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 21, 1996
Words:725
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