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Russia: Parliament Supports Putin By Firing Prosecutor

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has finally ended one of last year's hottest political stand-offs. It voted today to dismiss Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov, who had investigated former President Boris Yeltsin for corruption. Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports that the governors, who refused to fire Skuratov when Yeltsin asked, did so now as a gesture of goodwill to President-elect Vladimir Putin.

Moscow, 19 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Federation Council put an end today to a long-standing feud with the Kremlin over the fate of Prosecutor-General Yury Skuratov by voting overwhelmingly (133 to 10) to dismiss him.

The vote closes a chapter in what had become a tedious soap opera of mutual accusations between Skuratov and what was known as "The Family."

Last spring, the governors' refusal on three separate occasions to dismiss Skuratov became a symbol of Yeltsin's waning power.

Skuratov had provoked Yeltsin's ire by supporting and cooperating with a Swiss investigation into high corruption that implicated Yeltsin's daughter and a series of presidential administration officials. The scandal broke as the Duma was preparing for impeachment procedures against Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asked the Federation Council to approve Skuratov's suspension for bad morals, and behavior that was inappropriate to his office.

As the Swiss investigation gained momentum, a compromising videotape surfaced through the channels of the Federal Security Service--which at the time was headed by Vladimir Putin. The tape showed a man who looked and sounded a lot like Skuratov cavorting in bed with a few prostitutes. Skuratov said the video was fake, and asked the Federation Council not to give in to Kremlin pressure.

For its own reasons, the Federation Council resisted heavy lobbying from Yeltsin to have Skuratov dismissed. Many members of the council approved of Skuratov's offensive against the much-hated Kremlin, whose Byzantine politics of intrigue and corruption were often symbolized by Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana and her alleged ally, tycoon Boris Berezovsky. And rebelling against Yeltsin allowed the elected governors to express their newly-gained authority and break from a policy of leniency toward the Kremlin.

Council members were also looking ahead to the following year's presidential elections. At the time, Yuri Luzhkov -- Moscow mayor, Kremlin antagonist and possible presidential candidate -- strongly opposed Skuratov's dismissal. By supporting Skuratov, the governors signaled to Yeltsin that they might also support Luzhkov in the presidential race.

But now, with Boris Yeltsin out of the Kremlin and Putin at the head of the state, many of the council's motives for keeping Skuratov have disappeared. The regional bosses seem ready to bury political wrangles and corruption scandals and to join the general wave of support for Putin.

One of them, Magadan Governor Valentin Svetkov, told Reuters news agency that it is time for the governors to support the new president "and consolidate society." Luzhkov, who also voted to remove Skuratov, told Russian television RTR that the governors were showing their determination to cooperate with the new president.

As for Skuratov, he appeared before the Federal Council this morning and gave a vigorous defense of his actions.

"The oversight activity of the prosecutor general's office is being weakened along with its coordinating role. The international authority of this oldest judicial institution is dropping. All this is occurring against the background of a rapid rise in crime and corruption. These circumstances would push me to tender my resignation but I will not do this because even formally, I would not want to give in to these people -- in effect criminals -- who were seeking my removal and who, unfortunately, continue to work in the president's entourage."

Then he philosophically acknowledged defeat.

Skuratov told the Federation Council he understands the new political situation created by the election of a new president. He admitted that he had to leave, and thanked them for their former support.

Like the council's vote, Skuratov's parting words were a big change from his previous position. Just a month ago, he was running against Putin in the presidential race. His campaign speeches focused on denouncing Putin, whom he saw as one of the people who initiated last spring's campaign against him, and as the direct successor to what he viewed as Yeltsin's corrupt political system.

Perhaps Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed came closest to the truth when he tried to explain the Federal Council's vote today. He said everyone was sick and tired of the debate.