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Russia: Berezovsky Visits Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia, Other CIS Members

By Floriana Fossato and Grant Podelco

Moscow/Prague, 4 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Boris Berezovsky, continued his working tour of CIS states yesterday with a visit to Tajikistan.

Berezovsky's talks with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov were expected to focus on possible reforms of the loose confederation of 12 CIS states. The reforms are due to be discussed at a CIS summit scheduled in Moscow at the end of this month.

Berezovsky -- who is also due to visit Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan -- was in Georgia and Armenia earlier this week, also to discuss CIS reforms. He held talks with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

In Tbilisi, Berezovsky said restructuring the CIS is a "complicated, difficult process." Berezovsky -- a controversial business tycoon -- believes the CIS can be rendered viable through economic incentives. He said everyone now realizes that economic priorities must dominate political priorities if the CIS is to succeed.

Speaking in Yerevan, Berezovsky said his reform efforts are finding support among many CIS leaders.

"Reforms -- I can say in full confidence -- are taking place ... I simply fulfilled the orders of the CIS presidents, and they have recognized this."

Berezovsky also said he spoke with Kocharian about his proposal to create a "free-trade zone" among CIS states. Berezovsky declined to elaborate on the specifics of the plan.

Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are bound by a customs union that involves a harmonization of their customs duties. Armenia has so far refused to join the union, saying it would damage its economic interests.

Berezovsky also said misgivings expressed by some former Soviet republics about continued participation in a CIS defense pact will have no impact on the future of the organization. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan have signaled they may consider pulling out of the Collective Security Treaty to which most CIS members signed up in 1992. Berezovsky says the treaty was concluded and implemented outside the framework of the CIS.

Berezovsky said it is "quite possible" the Collective Security Treaty can be modified -- or as he put it "reanimated" -- to suit the needs of all member states.

Berezovsky's tour of CIS nations comes after he portrayed himself earlier this week as a victim of Russian secret service fabrications. He also accused the government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov of dragging Russia back into its repressive past.

The Communist-dominated State Duma last month unanimously approved a resolution (314-0) that called Berezovsky an "odious person" and asked CIS leaders to remove him from his post.

Observers in Moscow say that could prove extremely difficult. According to CIS rules, Berezovsky can only be fired by a unanimous vote of CIS heads of state, among whom he reportedly enjoys widespread support. In addition, Berezovsky is also believed to have gained great influence over Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his family during the past few years.

Meanwhile, Russian police recently raided companies thought to be controlled by Berezovsky. Prosecutors have started investigations into the alleged illegal activities of some of the companies.

Political analysts in Moscow say the raids on businesses linked to Berezovsky were masterminded by Primakov. Primakov -- a former spy master -- has publicly criticized Berezovsky for meddling in the cabinet's work. Some analysts say Primakov also sees Berezovsky as a dangerous rival for influence in the Kremlin because of his links to the Yeltsin family.

Berezovsky has not publicly reacted to the attacks on companies linked to his name. During a free-wheeling press conference in Moscow earlier this week, Berezovsky denied he is engaged in a confrontation with Primakov, saying only that they suffer from "fundamental ideological differences." He then lashed out at Primakov's government, saying it presents a "colossal problem and danger" for Russia and that it lacks an understanding of what liberal values and political and economic freedom mean.

Berezovsky claims that -- since taking up his state jobs -- he has not been involved in running companies he created or influenced, such as oil producer Sibneft, financial group LogoVAZ, national airline Aeroflot, carmaker AvtoVAZ or the nationwide television channel ORT. He said he has "transferred" his stakes in some of these companies to unspecified "other people."

At the same time, he portrayed himself as an entrepreneur persecuted by the Federal Security Service. Berezovsky said he and the companies have been attacked as a result of a "provocation" organized by Russian security agencies that he says are "dreaming" of restoring Soviet rule.

He said Russian communists and fascists are "clearly connected" to the security agencies. He added that the Communist Party should be banned because of anti-Semitic sentiments widespread among many of its members.

Berezovsky also criticized the Duma resolution calling for his removal, saying it is "based on lies." Berezovsky said there are "no facts, no legal processes" proving he is guilty of any wrongdoing.

"What was said concerning my work on reforming the CIS, I consider an absolute provocation ... The evaluation of the CIS presidents -- those whom I work for -- is totally different. It is absolutely positive."

Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky told RFE/RL that Berezovsky's press conference could be compared to a performance of the "theater of the absurd." He said it will be difficult for Berezovsky to pretend to the role of the persecuted, liberal-minded entrepreneur when he himself significantly contributed to the defeat of reformists previously in power and to the reappearance of Soviet-era officials in key government positions.

The Russian daily "Vremya-MN" wrote yesterday that Berezovsky's attacks on the government and on the security services shows mainly "the hysteric reaction of the cornered former almighty oligarch."

However, most observers also note that Berezovsky chose to go public with his accusations at a time when friction between Yeltsin and Primakov is reported to be growing and after the Kremlin ordered a probe into allegations of corruption among top cabinet officials. The allegations were made last week by the daily "Nezavisimaya Gazeta," believed to be controlled by Berezovsky.

"Vremya-MN" said that Berezovsky's statements also come at a moment when many in Russia and abroad are concerned about the growing number of security officials being appointed to top government positions in Russia, and about a surge of fascism and anti-Semitism in Russia.

The daily wrote: "Russia is a country where hysterics at any given moment can turn in to history." It said that "much will depend on how other political players" react to Berezovsky's words.

(Emil Danielyan contributed to this report from Yerevan.)