Yeltsin scraps secret police force: President acts amid fears of return of security network if reform programme fails

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TEN DAYS after extreme nationalists made surprising gains in Russia's parliamentary elections, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday accused the country's security forces of slowing down reform and announced a sweeping reorganisation of the former KGB. A presidential decree abolished the Security Ministry and gave the incumbent minister, Viktor Golushko, two weeks to set up a new counter-intelligence service.

Itar-Tass news agency quoted Mr Yeltsin as saying the secret police were 'incapable of being reformed. The system of political surveillance has only been mothballed and could easily be restored.' Apparently Mr Yeltsin fears that if a dictator came to power after him, the apparatus that repressed millions of innocent people in Soviet times could quickly be made to work again. He accused the ministry of lacking any strategic concept of Russia's state security and said its counter-intelligence work had been poor.

The President has been unhappy with the former KGB for some months. In the summer he sacked the then security minister, Viktor Barannikov, suspecting he was not loyal to him in his struggle with the Soviet-era parliament. This indeed turned out to be the case, as Mr Barannikov joined the rebel deputies during the White House siege in October and is now in prison for his part in the hardline uprising against Mr Yeltsin.

Since Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the far-right leader of the inappropriately-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), drew a large vote in the elections, the Security Ministry has also apparently aroused Mr Yeltsin's anger for failing to warn him of the growth of extreme nationalism.

Mr Zhirinovsky has a somewhat murky past - for example he got into trouble with the authorities while working in Turkey in the late 1960s - and the Moscow press has suggested that not only might he have links to the security police but that the former KGB may actually have been involved in the creation of his party, so as to discredit democracy.

Mr Yeltsin's tough stand with the Security Ministry should encourage reformers who are still waiting to see whether he is going to slow Russia's transition to capitalism in the light of the election results. The President commented for the first time yesterday on the shock success of the far-right, putting this down to public anger over economic hardship rather than any broad support for extreme nationalist policies. He is expected to give a full assessment of the elections at a press conference today.

As well as the disgruntled poor, detailed poll results show that in many areas the military preferred Mr Zhirinovsky to either the Communists or the main pro-Yeltsin bloc, Russia's Choice. The officers who operate Russia's strategic missiles gave the LDPR 72 per cent of their votes, while in the Moscow military district Mr Zhirinovsky received 46 per cent support. And 74 per cent of men in the Kantemirovskaya armoured division, which Mr Yeltsin used in the assault on the White House in October, voted for the extreme nationalists.

With most results now in, it appears that Russia's Choice and three other reformist parties will hold about 108 seats, the Communists and their Agrarian allies about 80, the LDPR about 65 and independents about 130. Leaders of Russia's Choice have called for an 'anti-fascist' pact, but the head of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, said yesterday he was not going to join it as there was no danger of fascism here. 'Besides,' he told Itar- Tass, 'Zhirinovsky's party includes many people with whom one can co-operate.'

Today's press conference may reveal whether Mr Yeltsin, who is personally in a strong position after the adoption of his tailor-made constitution, intends to stand by his reformist cabinet regardless of the big hardline bloc in the new parliament, or whether he will demand a reshuffle and policy changes in an attempt to win conservative co-operation.

Interfax reported that Mr Zhirinovsky, who says he will be constructive whether his party is offered cabinet posts or not, had confidential talks lasting an hour-and- a-half with the head of Mr Yeltsin's administration, Nikolai Medvedev, on Monday night.

The nationalist leader, who has expressed a wish to meet Bill Clinton when he visits Moscow in January, began a trip to Austria and Germany yesterday. At Munich airport, he picked up Gerhard Frey, leader of the German People's Union, and the two right-wingers flew on to Vienna together, discussing the 'buildup of friendship' as they went.