President Boris Yeltsin rocked the Russian boat again Saturday, interrupting a lakeland holiday to dismiss his security chief and ordering the Cabinet to sell off part of the world's biggest natural gas firm, Gazprom.
The Kremlin said Yeltsin had signed a decree removing Nikolai Kovalyov as head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), a domestic successor of the Soviet-era KGB, and replacing him with a presidential administration official who was once a spy.Yeltsin signed the order appointing Vladimir Putin, and a number of other decrees including the one on Gazprom, during a meeting with Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko at the Kremlin leader's retreat.
"You sometimes fail to understand sackings," Yeltsin told reporters before the Kremlin gave Kovalyov's name. "You ask questions - he was good, shaves every day. Well, I have significantly more information."
Despite Yeltsin's remarks it was not clear why he removed Kovalyov, whose FSB agency covers counterintelligence and domestic security including extremism. It was also not clear if more personnel changes were to follow.
The 67-year-old Kremlin chief also said the country needed to start thinking how it would pay back a huge international loan package and clear domestic debts, such as wage arrears.
One avenue Yeltsin and Kiriyenko hit on was Gazprom. The Kremlin said a decree urged the government to propose when and how to sell 5 percent of Gazprom shares, leaving the remaining 35 percent of the state holding untouched.