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Russia Shake-Up Leaves Yeltsin Loyalists on Top

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moving to replace the ministers he fired for bungling last month’s hostage crisis, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin on Thursday appointed the hawkish commander of Russia’s forces in Chechnya as Interior minister.

With the naming of Col. Gen. Anatoly S. Kulikov, 48, a hard-liner who has commanded Interior Ministry troops in the breakaway Chechen region since February, Yeltsin has filled two of the three senior Cabinet posts that were vacated after last week’s political showdown with the Parliament.

But lawmakers and observers said the new appointments amount to no more than a reshuffle of insiders with proven loyalty to Yeltsin and will bring no changes in Russian policy.

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They did, however, raise questions about whether Yeltsin was renewing his confrontation with legislators and whether his government is as earnest as it has recently presented itself about seeking peace with the Chechens.

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Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kulikov was the Interior Ministry’s commander in charge of the Northern Caucasus district. He has spoken in favor of the Russian military operation in Chechnya and has denied widespread reports that his troops were involved in looting and atrocities in the secessionist Muslim republic.

Kulikov replaces Viktor F. Yerin, 51, a longtime Yeltsin loyalist. Although Yerin was purportedly sacked for incompetence, Yeltsin on Wednesday named him deputy head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, the arm of the former KGB that handles overseas spying.

Lawmakers who had demanded the resignations of Yerin and his fellow ministers reacted acidly to Yerin’s lateral transfer.

“The foreign intelligence services of the world can now sleep safely at night,” said Yegor T. Gaidar, leader of the reformist Russia’s Choice faction in Parliament.

Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov observed of Yerin: “How can he handle such a delicate matter as foreign intelligence if he failed to curb our flourishing home-grown mafia?”

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Kulikov won support only from Stanislav S. Govorukhin, an ultranationalist lawmaker and filmmaker who pronounced him “a good guy.”

On Wednesday, Yeltsin also named Vyacheslav A. Mikhailov, who was deputy nationalities minister and is leading the ongoing peace talks in the Chechen capital of Grozny, to replace his boss, Nationalities Minister Nikolai D. Yegorov.

The president has not yet chosen a replacement for Sergei V. Stepashin, the fired head of the Federal Security Service, an arm of the former KGB. The Moscow rumor mill favored another insider, Col. Gen. Viktor Zorin, who runs the counterintelligence division of the security service, as the likely pick.

Not appeased by Yeltsin’s re moval of the key “power ministers” in exchange for Parliament backtracking on a no-confidence vote, the Communists plan to try to bring impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin today.

The move would be purely an act of election-season theater, however, as Yeltsin’s implacable foes lack the parliamentary votes to do more than vent their displeasure over his appointments and policies.

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Igor V. Korolkov, a correspondent for the liberal newspaper Izvestia, said the reshuffle reminded him of a Politburo reshuffle in the era of Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev when “the same party hacks were moved from ministry to ministry” on the theory that a good Communist could run any agency, regardless of professional training.

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The Duma, the lower house of Parliament, demanded that the “power ministers” be sacked not only because of their handling of the Chechen terrorist takeover of a hospital in Budennovsk last month that left more than 120 people dead but also because of the government’s conduct of the unpopular 7-month-old war in Chechnya.

Korolkov said the new appointments demonstrated a “lack of respect for the Chechens in the Grozny talks and disregard for the legislature’s opinion.”

“Here comes an inconsiderate and rather arrogant move by the president, who appoints the man who personally led the Chechnya campaign [Kulikov] as Interior minister of Russia,” Korolkov said.

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Other developments Thursday indicated that the bitter fallout from the war in Chechnya may not be over. The Chechen rebel commander who conducted the raid on Budennovsk, Shamil Basayev, threatened a biological or nuclear attack on Russia if the peace talks in Grozny fail.

“Half a kilo of uranium on Moscow and the city will cease to exist,” he reportedly told Agence France-Presse in an interview from his mountain hide-out in Chechnya. Basayev said Russia had left “radioactive substances and biological weapons” behind in Chechnya when troops withdrew in 1992.

A government spokesman immediately dismissed Basayev’s claims as “a farce.”

The Grozny peace talks resumed last week with Kulikov present, but a key member of the Russian team threatened to quit over the Kremlin’s unwillingness to budge on an issue that has inflamed the Chechens and threatens to torpedo the talks.

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On Tuesday, Yeltsin issued a decree permanently deploying Russian troops on Chechen soil. The move is in keeping with Moscow’s position that Chechen independence is out of the question, although a measure of autonomy may be granted. The Chechens, who continue to demand independence and a withdrawal of Russian troops, said Yeltsin has shown no willingness to make any compromises.

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