PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin predicted this summer that September would be a hot month for Russia's political struggle. He wasted no time yesterday in turning up the heat by ordering the temporary removal of Vice President Alexander Rutskoi and First Deputy Premier Vladimir Shumeiko from the government.
The length of their suspension reportedly hinges on corruption investigations being conducted against the two.
The surprise moves came as Yeltsin continues to search for ways out of a political deadlock that has paralyzed economic reforms. But in trying to deal with the accused officials, the Russian president could aggravate Russia's already severe political crisis.
While Yeltsin appointed Shumeiko to his post, and thus can fire him, Rutskoi was elected along with Yeltsin in June 1991, making his dismissal constitutionally questionable.
Yeltsin's decree insisted Rutskoi's dismissal was constitutional, reasoning that the vice president derived his authority from the president. Rutskoi has been one of the president's most outspoken opponents.
Rutskoi has steadfastly denied corruption allegations. A government commission on graft in late August accused the vice president of improperly diverting $3 million in state funds into a Swiss bank account. The vice president had no immediate comment on the decree, but the action against him could arouse the ire of Yeltsin's hard-line opponents.
Shumeiko, a member of the pro-reform faction in the Cabinet, asked Yeltsin to temporarily relieve him of his duties, according to Tass. He is the subject of a corruption probe being conducted by the Russian Prosecutor General's office.