Gorbachev's HQ seized by Yeltsin

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin, stepping up an increasingly bitter feud with his predecessor, yesterday confiscated a country retreat and a Moscow property used by the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to house his retirement think-tank.

The seizure, reported by Interfax news agency last night, came after Mr Gorbachev's refusal to appear before Russia's highest court, and a blistering attack by him on Mr Yeltsin's government. In a newspaper interview published in Moscow yesterday, Mr Gorbachev said Mr Yeltsin could no longer cope with running the country and was pushing Russia towards an explosion worse than the turmoil in Yugoslavia.

The seizure of Mr Gorbachev's spacious offices in Moscow and a second property outside the city carries the quarrel between the past and present masters of the Kremlin to a new level of vindictiveness.

According to Interfax, Mr Yeltsin's decree transfers the buildings of the Gorbachev Foundation to a newly created body called the Russian Financial Academy, which will train former soldiers and officials from the Interior and Security ministries. In a gesture designed to humiliate rather than mollify, Mr Gorbachev will be permitted to rent space if he chooses.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Gorbachev ignored, for a second time, a summons to testify before the Constitutional Court, which has been sitting since July to examine the legality of a decree issued last December by Mr Yeltsin banning the Communist Party.

The presiding judge, Valery Zorkin, said that an aide to Mr Gorbachev had telephoned to say that the former Soviet president had no intention of taking part in proceedings he considers a politically motivated charade. The court has already ordered the former Communist Party chief to pay a symbolic fine, and Russian border police will not let him leave the country until he testifies. Mr Gorbachev, who describes himself as a refusenik, has agreed to meet Mr Zorkin, but categorially rejects any role in the hearings to decide the fate of the Communist Party.

In a lengthy interview printed yesterday by Komsomolskaya Pravda, Mr Gorbachev lashed out at the court, President Yeltsin and his team of free-market advisers, particularly the Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar.

When Mr Gorbachev handed over power last December he agreed to a truce with his successor in the Kremlin. That pact, however, has collapsed. What at first seemed a petty squabble has escalated into a bitter and very public feud.

'The President clearly cannot cope with his duties,' Mr Gorbachev told Komsomolskaya Pravda. Making dire predictions of what winter might bring, he said events 'will leave the political sphere and be decided in the streets. This is more serious than Yugoslavia or Tajikistan . . . . The life of a whole country is at stake.'

The government, for its part, accuses Mr Gorbachev of trying to dodge the law. 'This is disrespect for a law-based state,' President Yeltsin said on Tuesday.

Yesterday, the Justice Minister, Nikolai Fyodorov, said Mr Gorbachev had 'a double standard . . . typical of all former Communist Party leaders. Deep in his heart, he probably still feels like any first secretary of the regional party committee; that is, a carrier of legal nihilism and cynicism.'