Obituary: Nikolai Yegorov

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Nikolai Yegorov, a long-time associate of the Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Minister for Nationality Affairs and Regional Policy during the Chechen crisis of 1994, was one of the most influential members of the Russian government's "party of war", the hardline inner circle which supported sending Russian troops to crush the independence movement in Chechnya. Like many key figures in Russian nationality policy, Yegorov was of Cossack origin.

His career in the Russian government was chequered, mainly as a result of the failure of the military to crush Chechen aspirations for independence. Yegorov was punished twice, being removed as presidential representative for Chechnya soon after the Russian assault in December 1994 and from his ministerial post in June 1995.

Yegorov was born in the Krasnodar region of southern Russia in 1951 and studied at the military Political Aviation College, the Stavropol Agricultural Institute and later at the Higher Party School in Moscow. He began his career as head of a state farm and held a number of party posts. He later headed Stavropol's regional administration. In December 1992 Yeltsin appointed him head of administration in the neighbouring Krasnodar region and in December 1993 he was elected to the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council.

It was from this background in the politics of the south of Russia that Yeltsin plucked Yegorov in May 1994 to become Minister for Nationality Affairs and Regional Policy. This post suddenly became a key position as Yeltsin's opposition to the separatist regime of the Chechen leader Dzokhar Dudayev took an aggressive turn.

As events in Chechnya moved inexorably towards a Russian assault and all-out war, Yegorov was one of an inner group planning the operation which was to lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of Chechens and Russians. He worked alongside Yeltsin's security chief Alexander Korzhakov, the head of the Federal Counter-intelligence Service, Sergei Stepashin, and the minister of internal affairs Viktor Yerin.

Yegorov took part in the crucial meeting in Mozdok in north Ossetia on 8 December 1994 which put the final touches to the invasion plans. Three days later the operation began. Yeltsin upgraded Yegorov to deputy prime minister with special responsibility for Chechnya.

However, as the Chechens put up fierce resistance to the shambolic might of Russia's military, international and domestic opinion grew increasingly critical. In late January 1995, after Yegorov had been hospitalised with alleged pneumonia, he was replaced as presidential representative in Chechnya

This marked an ignominious end to what he hoped would be the peak of his career, though he limped on until June 1995, when he was one of three senior figures fired by Yeltsin in the wake of the botched handling of the Budennovsk hostage crisis. A group of armed Chechens had seized some 2,000 hostages in a hospital in southern Russia and more than 100 people died, while the hostage-takers made it safely back to Chechnya.

However, Yegorov remained as an adviser to Yeltsin (organising the inauguration ceremony for the president's second term) and briefly had a comeback in January 1996 when he was appointed presidential chief-of-staff. He survived in this post for only six months, when Yeltsin culled hardliners among his staff. He was replaced by the more competent Anatoly Chubais.

He returned to the Kras-nodar region, resuming the post of governor. However, he lost his job to a Communist challenger in the December 1996 gubernatorial elections.

Felix Corley

Nikolai Dmitrievich Yegorov, politician: born Zassovskoi, Krasnodar 3 May 1951; married (one son, one daughter); died Moscow 25 April 1997.