Berezovsky turns on 'weak' Yeltsin

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The Independent Online
BILL CLINTON had barely finished spelling out his message of capitalism, peace and the laws of global economics in Moscow yesterday before Russia was in the grips of new political conflict.

The tycoon who orchestrated the firing of the last government, Boris Berezovsky, abruptly turned on President Boris Yeltsin and his prime minister- to-be, Viktor Chernomyrdin, accusing them of weakness because they have been willing to bargain withparliament.

His move further isolates the acting prime minister, whose nomination was overwhelmingly rejected by parliament this week, but whom Mr Yeltsin has continued to support, prompting speculation that the legislature will be dissolved later this month.

The oligarch - one of a handful of businessmen whose wealth and holdings allows them to wield great political influence - yesterday seemed to realign his loyalties to two powerful political figures: the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and General Alexander Lebed, who has presidential aspirations.

Both these men are viewed askance in the West. The mayor, in particular, has shown few democratic impulses and is an outspoken nationalist. Mr Berezovsky's switch of allegiance came after a day in which Mr Clinton and his team had repeatedly appealed to Russia to keep on the path towards a market economy, holding out the lure of unspecified Western assistance.

The American message, delivered yesterday by President Clinton in person to parliamentary leaders - including the Communists' Gennady Zyuganov - was an unambiguous statement of support for Mr Yeltsin, but it appears to have done little to end the Russian leader's isolation.

The State Duma, or lower house, added to the tension by passing an almost unanimous vote calling for the firing of the chairman of the Central Bank, Sergei Dubinin, who led a hopeless struggle to defend the rouble before devaluing last month, and defaulting on foreign debts.

The demands by the Duma, which has been trying to use the political crisis to wrest powers from the Kremlin, symbolised the failure of Mr Clinton and his entourage to impress their message on the opposition, or anyone other than the converted. Mr Dubinin is regarded as a firm disciple of market economics.

The political picture grew still more fractured last night when Mr Yeltsin signed a decree re-appointing his foreign, defence, and interior ministers, along with Boris Fyodorov, a reformist deputy prime minister.

The decree suggests that Mr Yeltsin and Mr Chernomyrdin are pressing ahead with their plan to appoint a cabinet, even though this is a breach of the constitution.

The heightening of the political feuding makes it still less likely that the State Duma will confirm Mr Chernomyrdin in his post at a second vote tomorrow, and further increases the possibility that its stand-off with the Kremlin will end in parliament's dissolution.

The visit by the Clinton entourage to urge Russia not to revert to command economics has done little to allay concerns about Mr Yeltsin's capacity to govern, as he was several times caught by the cameras looking confused.

Mr Clinton repeated his call for Russia to stick to the path of reforms, no matter how painful. But the message was softer than the West's has been before, and placed greater emphasis on the need for a social safety net.

Although US officials have ruled out any new money for Russia, Mr Clinton has talked broadly about more aid if Russia follows the right course - as Mr Yeltsin has said it will - and suggested this might come from the World Bank.

The International Monetary Fund is already pressing Moscow hard to follow a tough, market-orientated austerity programme in return for the next $4.3bn (pounds 2.6bn) tranche of a $23bn IMF-led rescue package.

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