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 on Sunday, Yeltsin has moved with surprising speed to remove the three most powerful figures in the Kremlin - all of whom happen to control sizeable 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.
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.