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Russia: Berezovsky's Ouster Fuels Speculation Of Further Changes

  • Matt Frost

Prague, 10 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin's decision to seek the firing of CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky continues to fuel speculation that changes in the current Russian government may soon follow.

Such speculation was given added impetus by the Kremlin's criticism last weekend of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and his government. Primakov and First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov were singled out for their failed efforts to persuade the International Monetary Fund to help Russia out of its current financial crisis.

The Kremlin has denied reports, however, that Primakov will be forced to resign unless he purges his cabinet of communists, including Maslyukov and Deputy Prime Minister Gennady Kulik.

Berezovsky, for his part, is continuing in his duties as CIS executive secretary, despite the fact Yeltsin has named Ivan Korotchenya as acting CIS executive secretary.

Berezovsky is currently in the U.S. lobbying on behalf of the CIS -- the Commonwealth of Independent States.

During an address to about 200 U.S. policy makers and Russian experts at a panel discussion in New York, Berezovsky made little reference to the efforts to dismiss him, other than saying "it's very important that everything is done according to the rules."

Berezovsky's appearance of doing business as usual suggests he is taking the position that he is still in the job, at least until CIS heads-of-state meet in Moscow later this month.

Indeed, the legitimacy of Yeltsin's decision has been called into question since -- according to analysts -- the CIS charter requires a unanimous decision of CIS leaders before Berezovsky can formally be removed.

The decision by Yeltsin to oust Berezovsky for what the Kremlin called his job failings was apparently taken without consulting other CIS leaders. The Kremlin press service said Yeltsin did speak later by phone with many CIS presidents, however, to discuss Berezovsky and the reform of the CIS.

Reaction among CIS leaders has been mixed. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that as head of the CIS, Yeltsin has the right to dismiss Berezovsky. Armenian President Robert Kocharian said he does not object to firing the Russian business magnate. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev called the decision "surprising" and said Yeltsin should have first conferred with other CIS leaders. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, said they both oppose Berezovsky's sacking. In a telephone conversation with Yeltsin on Saturday, Itar-Tass reports that Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev said he approves of Russia's decision since Moscow appointed him to the position in the first place.

Political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky tells RFE/RL that -- while CIS heads may be displeased with the manner in which Yeltsin is disposing of Berezovsky -- they will not insist that Berezovsky keep his post against Moscow's wishes.

"[At the next CIS summit], he will be formally relieved of his post. None of the presidents need him. But many of them -- and first and foremost Karimov and Aliyev -- are exploiting this rather clumsy legal act by Yeltsin for their own purposes to express their displeasure over the way in which Yeltsin handled the affair." This is not the first time that Berezovsky has incurred the Kremlin's wrath. He was ousted from his post on Russia's Security Council in 1997 amid political in-fighting. But in April of last year, he re-emerged as head of the CIS, the loose-knit federation of 12 former Soviet republics.

It seems unlikely, however, that Berezovsky will survive this latest attempt to remove him from political office. He has almost no political support left in the country, having run afoul of Primakov after sharply criticizing his government. Berezovsky also has no support among parliamentarians who last month passed a non-binding vote of censure against him by a unanimous vote.

Using a chess analogy, Piontkovsky notes that Yeltsin's firing of Berezovsky could be the first move in a "combination" to weaken Primakov and his Communist supporters in the State Duma.

"Of course, Yeltsin is extremely alarmed by Primakov's growing political weight, and although formally he could sign a decree dismissing Primakov, everyone understands that he does not have the political resources at the present time to undertake such an action. But at the same time, he can hurt Primakov by firing Maslyukov and Kulik in connection with serious corruption charges circulating in the mass media. But to do this, it is essential that he rids himself of Berezovsky. If he fires Maslyukov and Kulik on corruption charges, then he cannot protect someone who is almost a symbol of corruption, who is very close to the President's family and managing their financial affairs. The removal of Berezovsky is a necessary step for Yeltsin to take if he decides to fire Maslyukov and Kulik at a later date."

It remains to be seen whether Berezovsky's removal is a prelude to a general purge of communist members of Primakov's government. But Piontkovsky and other Russian analysts believe that -- whatever the political developments within the CIS executive structure -- Berezovsky could soon face criminal charges for corruption in connection with his many business dealings in Russia. They say he may even be forced to flee the country.