OBITUARY : Viktor Barannikov

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The Independent Online
Viktor Barannikov rocketed from obscurity as a police officer to being Minister of the Interior of the Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, and then Minister of Security of the Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin. But his eminence lasted only three and a half years.

Barannikov, a scion of the working class, started work as a fitter at a Moscow factory when he was 17. Four years later he was accepted as a trainee junior policeman. He was sent to the Higher Police School in Moscow, from which he graduated four years later. He worked at the Ministry of Internal Affairs for nearly 30 years. He served five leaders of the Soviet Union, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev.

In 1989, the third year of Gorbachev's perestroika, he rose to become head of the Department for Combating Serious Crime. But his career took off in a big way in January 1990 when he was appointed to act as Minister of the Interior in what was then still the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan at the time of the recently introduced state of emergency. In June that year, Gorbachev appointed him the Russian Federation's Minister of the Interior, with the rank of lieutenant-general.

Later that year Barannikov followed in the footsteps of Boris Yeltsin, then Gorbachev's main opponent, in a mass exodus from the Communist Party, in which they gave up their party membership cards. He played an active part on Yeltsin's side during the coup against President Gorbachev in August 1991. He refused to obey orders from Boris Pugo, the then Minister of the Interior (and one of the main plotters against Gorbachev), who committed suicide shortly after the failure of the coup.

Barannikov supplied Yeltsin with valuable intelligence and ordered the cadet police force - a few hundred elite troops - to defend, if necessary, the building of the Supreme Council, in central Moscow against the KGB's internal troops. Then he took a personal part in arresting the leaders of the coup. He was acclaimed as one of the few national heroes, and on 23 August, when the coup was completely crushed, Yeltsin rewarded him by appointing him Minister of the Interior for the Russian Federation.

In December that year, as Yeltsin was preparing to dismantle the Soviet Union, Barannikov, together with his first deputy, Viktor Yerin, devised the presidential project for the merger of two rival ministries and the creation of the MDVD, the new Russian Federation Ministry of Security and Interior, which he was put in charge of by Yeltsin on 27 December 1991. In the same month he took part in the state summit between President Yeltsin and the US Secretary of State, George Baker. But some people in Barannikov's inner cabinet, especially his first deputy, Anatoly Oleinikov, were engaged in consolidating the old KGB forces and doing everything they could to oppose any liberalisation. By January 1992 strong internal opposition to the new ministry had developed among the liberal- minded officers of the ministry, who started boycotting the office, and were supported by the parliamentarians. The whole merger came under attack and President Yeltsin was forced to annul it.

In his new attempt to control the former KGB, Yeltsin named Barannikov to head his new security service and appointed him as Director General of the AFB, the Federal Security Agency of the Russian Federation, making him the No 1 counter-intelligence man and one of the most powerful men in the country. His rise continued steadily when, the following month, he became Minister of Security of the Russian Federation and a senior member of the Security Council.

In July 1992 Barannikov was raised to the rank of marshal. It was probably at that point that his fall began. During 1993 he started to distance himself from Yeltsin, and during the fierce battles between Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet, led by Ruslan Khasbulatov and Alexander Rutskoi, Barannikov withheld his support. He was named by Moscow News in August of that year as one of the eight participants in the so-called Siabeko scandal, relating to the affairs of Siabeko Trade and Finance AG, of Switzerland - Barannikov had travelled to Switzerland to meet Boris Birshtein, a Soviet emigre millionaire and owner of Siabeko.

It was alleged that Birshtein wanted Barannikov to convince a member of Yeltsin's cabinet to promote one of his firms, a Russian-Western company called Rus; that Birshtein had financed Mrs Barannikov's trip; and that she had accepted Birshtein's gifts. There were accusations of government corruption.

On 26 July 1993 Barannikov was fired by Yeltsin. The official reason was that Barannikov had started gathering the old KGB under his wing, behind the president's back. Barannikov had in fact brought the Frontier Troops department into his new united ministry, the AFB. He was also held responsible for the incident at the Tadjik-Afghan border which led to the death of several Russian security officers. But everyone in the Moscow press knew that he had been fired for "ethical reasons"; for his association with Birshtein and his circle.

Having lost his position and all his privileges, Barannikov, bitter and isolated, took a leading part in the October 1993 coup against Yeltsin. He was arrested with others and spent nearly six months at Lefortovo prison, in Moscow. He was set free, in a new phase of the continuing chaotic reshuffle of the security services, but not cleared. But by this time he was already ill.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Viktor Pavlovich Barannikov, politician: born near Moscow 20 October 1940; married; died Moscow 21 July 1995.