President Boris Yeltsin fired three Cabinet ministers Saturday for failing to reverse Russia's economic and social ills, but the government's top two reformers were untouched by the shake-up.
The firings came three days after Yeltsin warned that the "culprits" responsible for Russia's woes would not be kept in the government.Yeltsin's office said the president dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Valery Serov, Transportation Minister Nikolai Tsakh and Education Minister Vladimir Kinelyov.
The official reason for the dismissals was that they were moving to other jobs. But Yeltsin had warned on Thursday that he intended to identify those responsible for the country's economic state and fire them.
He issued the threat at the beginning of a government meeting to assess Russia's economic performance in 1997, and said three Cabinet members would lose their jobs by the end of the meeting.
But before Thursday's meeting was over, Yeltsin abruptly walked out of the room, with all members of his Cabinet still employed, leaving the audience baffled by his behavior and sparking speculation over who would lose or keep their jobs.
After Saturday's announcement, it was clear that the government's two top reformers, First Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais, would be unaffected by the shake-up.
Yeltsin's political opponents have repeatedly called for their removal, and the president has criticized them recently, but he has insisted they will keep their jobs.
At Thursday's meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had singled out Serov for criticism, saying he had failed in his mandate to build strong ties with other former Soviet republics.
Neither Tsakh nor Kinelyov were specifically criticized at the meeting. However, both oversee divisions of government that have been widely accused of failing to adapt to changing times.