It is the second time in less than a year that Mr Yeltsin has dismissed an intelligence chief and suggests deep mutual suspicion between the President and a divided but still powerful security apparatus. A curt statement from the Kremlin gave no reason for the sacking of Nikolai Golushko.
Itar-Tass news agency gave two explanations. One report cited family reasons. Another linked it to the release on Saturday of the former vice president Alexander Rutskoi and other enemies of Mr Yeltsin, accused of fomenting an armed uprising last October in which more than 140 died.
Mr Golushko, a career officer, was appointed to head the Security Ministry last summer and then, after its abolition in December, a newly formed Federal Counter- Intelligence Service.
He is the second senior figure to leave office over the releases. The Prosecutor-General, Alexei Kazannik, resigned on Saturday morning shortly before the prison gates swung open at Lefortovo. He complained of illegal pressure from the Kremlin to keep the conspirators behind bars.
Another possible element in Mr Golushko's departure is the espionage row between Moscow and Washington. More important, though, seems to be Russia's volatile internal politics. Mr Golushko was not responsible for the releases, carried out under a parliamentary amnesty covering last October's violence, the August 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev and a Moscow riot on May Day last year. But there have been reports that security officers refused to pursue investigations into Mr Rutskoi, Ruslan Khasbulatov and others. Lefortovo, once the Soviet Union's most secure and feared jail, used to be run by the KGB and its successor agencies.
Mr Golushko also angered the Kremlin with criticism of Mr Yeltsin's sweeping reorganisation of the security apparatus in December. Mr Yeltsin disbanded the Security Ministry, calling it the 'last bastion of the totalitarian system'. Mr Golushko, who was named head of the new counter-intelligence service, said he would implement the reform but warned it would alienate 'honest servicemen'.
Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist MP and chairman of a parliamentary security committee, said yesterday that Mr Golushko had been removed because Mr Yeltsin considered him to be politically unreliable.
He said many in the security system opposed Mr Yeltsin's abolition of the Soviet-era legislature by decree last September and had wavered when he called in the army. 'Yeltsin does not forgive betrayal or rather he does not forgive people who do not obey his orders,' said Mr Ilyukhin.
Mr Yeltsin was due to have gone on television last night to respond to the release of his enemies. But the announcement was then called off because, according to his press office: 'The President is working on all the problems that the country and society face.'
The on-off television appearance, bungled efforts to keep Mr Rutskoi behind bars and the dismissal of Mr Golushko add to a growing impression of confusion, even panic, among Mr Yeltsin's dwindling circle of allies as they try to fend off attacks from a belligerent parliament dominated by Communists and chauvinists.
The new constitution grants Mr Yeltsin vast power on paper but his real authority is melting away. Mr Kazannik, was a long-time ally. But like many others he voiced disgust at the Kremlin. He said Mr Yeltsin had asked him three times to block the release of Mr Rutskoi and Mr Khasbulatov: 'I resigned because I was told to violate the law which I cannot do,' he said yesterday. 'Let those who use the law as a doormat and as a way for further self-promotion take the heat'.Reuse content