Mr Yeltsin, sidelined for months by ill-health and waning political clout, must see the premier as the country's de facto leader and decided it was time to bring him to heel. There have been rumours that the President is contemplating sacking Mr Primakov, who took the job six months ago after Russia's currency collapse and a massive debt default. Mr Yeltsin has also met two senior figures - Grigory Yavlinksy and Yegor Stroyev - who were also seen as candidates for prime minister.
Mr Yeltsin, being treated for a bleeding ulcer at the Central Clinic Hospital in Moscow, was televised admonishing Mr Primakov for having poor relations with the media. He said there was "no wedge" in their relationship - and the premier meekly agreed.
Undermining Mr Primakov at a time when Russia needs to convey the impression of stability to the outside world - difficult talks are under way with the International Monetary Fund over more loans - defies logic. But that has rarely governed Mr Yeltsin's political decisions in recent years.
Sacking the Prime Minister, who has irked him by drafting a political agreement with parliament limiting the Kremlin's powers, would cause another political crisis, distracting attention for the harsh economic issues that face the country.
It is unclear whether Mr Yeltsin would go that far. But it is not impossible that his premier, angered by Mr Yeltsin's ticking off may wonder whether he wants to carry on.