Officer's 'duty' to kill Yeltsin

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - A bungled attempt by a Russian army major to assassinate President Boris Yeltsin has highlighted the bitterness in some sections of society at the poverty caused by economic reform, writes Helen Womack. Major Ivan Kislov, whose plan to stab Mr Yeltsin was revealed over the weekend, said he was carrying out what he regarded as his 'service and civil duty' because of Mr Yeltsin's 'anti-people policy'.

The public prosecutor has now taken over the case, and information is being released only through Itar-Tass news agency. But what little came out on Saturday suggested the major acted alone and might be mentally unbalanced.

After deserting from his unit in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk in December, Itar-Tass said, he made two bombs and entered the foyer of what he thought was Mr Yeltsin's private home, only to be turned away by a guard. He then got his bombs wet while sleeping rough at a Moscow railway station and went, armed with a knife instead, to the government complex, where he posed as a snow-sweeper and planned to stab the President. But again guards spotted him, this time questioned and searched him properly, and detained him last Wednesday without a struggle.

Colleagues in Khabarovsk described the major as an efficient officer, whose disappearance they assumed was due to his having had an accident. He is now undergoing psychiatric investigation.

The enormous popularity Mr Yeltsin enjoyed after defeating the hardline coup attempt in August 1991 has evaporated as millions have seen their living standards fall to the breadline, and the very poorest have been forced on to the streets to beg for charity.

Resentment is especially strong in the army, where men are poorly paid, badly fed and housed and sometimes caught in the middle of ethnic conflicts. Worse for many officers is loss of the prestige they once enjoyed, and the feeling that the reformers scorn the Communist faith in which they believed.