Russian Speaker in militia scandal

Click to follow
RUSLAN KHASBULATOV, the Speaker of Russia's parliament and a formidable critic of President Boris Yeltsin's reformist government, was trapped in a deepening scandal yesterday over a 5,000-strong armed unit that appears to operate as his personal security force.

Liberal members of parliament expressed shock that the unit had been created without the legislature's permission and that it was answerable neither to Mr Yeltsin nor to the Interior Ministry.

The force is nominally responsible for protecting senior figures in the conservative-dominated parliament, but several deputies said they feared it was a potential instrument for crushing Russia's fledgling democracy. Igor Nikulin, the chairman of a parliamentary committee on security affairs, said the unit had 'assumed control over many ministries and institutions which have nothing to do with the top bodies of state power'.

These included the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the central bank and a television station.

Mr Khasbulatov, who has campaigned for more than a year to curb Mr Yeltsin's presidential powers, poured scorn on the accusations. 'The parliament is not the institution which is strangling freedom. Dictatorship always comes from the executive authorities,' he said.

The liberal newspaper, Izvestia, said the security force had been established last October, two months after the abortive hardline Communist coup, in an order signed by Mr Khasbulatov's deputy, Sergei Filatov, and stamped 'Not To Be Published'.

Mr Filatov is one of five voting members of the Security Council, an unelected body that appears to have superseded the government and parliament as the most important political authority in Russia. Izvestia said the security force's commander, General Ivan Boyko, took orders solely from Mr Khasbulatov or, in rare cases, from his immediate deputies. Its officers wear police uniforms and are armed.

Surrounded by controversy, Mr Khasbulatov disappeared from public view on Wednesday evening and was later said to have been admitted to hospital with high blood pressure. 'The Speaker's state of health is characterised by extreme fatigue caused by overwork, lack of sleep and heavy smoking,' his press office said in a statement.

However, Russia's first deputy health minister, Bela Denisenko, who examined Mr Khasbulatov on Wednesday, said she had detected symptoms of drunkenness. 'When he asked me how I found him, I replied that, regrettably, proceeding from the clinical symptoms, I had to judge that he was in a state of narcotic intoxication,' she told Izvestia.

The Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, warned the government's opponents yesterday that the army backed President Yeltsin and hinted it was ready to back him with force, Reuter reports.