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Papers: President's Acts Protect His Inner Circle

Russian newspapers agreed Tuesday that President Boris Yeltsin's sudden firing of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin was motivated by his own selfish interests rather than concern about improving Russia's plight.

Some newspapers saw Yeltsin's motivation in naming Vladimir Putin as prime minister and his preferred candidate for president as a desire to protect his inner circle of Kremlin advisers - called "the family" - from prosecution after his term ends next year.

"Fired because of family complications" was the top headline in the daily Segodnya.

The question puzzling many newspapers was why Stepashin was sacked without having committed any clear offense against Yeltsin.

"In the record-short 80 days of his government, he didn't achieve anything good, but of course he didn't mess up anything either," Noviye Izvestia wrote.

The daily showed a cartoon of Yeltsin placing a crown on a puppet Putin and declaring him Russia's president.

Some dailies gave details of the behind-the-scenes Kremlin maneuvering.

The leading financial daily Kommersant wrote that the trigger for Yeltsin's unhappiness was the alliance between the Fatherland political bloc of his rival, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and the All Russia party of regional leaders last Wednesday.

"The nightmare of the Kremlin's residence materialized: Fatherland joined up with All Russia," it wrote.

"Stepashin was not only unable to oppose this," it said, "but when the Kremlin made a last, desperate effort to advance Stepashin as the head of this bloc, he retreated and announced that he would not join any political bloc."

Kommersant said influential former Yeltsin aide Anatoly Chubais argued Thursday against firing Stepashin, causing delay. But the worsening of tensions in the Caucasus region of Dagestan over the weekend appeared to further weaken Stepashin's position.

"The change of the head of the White House from one military man to a special serviceman could signify a change of Russia's position in the Caucasus conflict," Kommersant wrote. "Stepashin came out against playing the military card to introduce a state of emergency to Russia."

Several dailies homed in on Yeltsin's impetuous ways.

"The present authorities do not enjoy even minimal support from any layer of society or government institutions, but in one matter or another they are hostage to the moods of Boris Yeltsin," Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

A commentary in Segodnya also raised the question of Yeltsin's health.

"It is possible to explain the president's heightened impatience ... on the condition of his health, but let's leave that theme to medical professionals. So far they are silent," Leonid Radzikhovsky wrote.

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