Supreme Soviet called to crisis session: Moscow jittery amid talk of murky plots against President Yeltsin and tales of troop movements

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The Independent Online
LESS than a week into their summer recess, Russian legislators have been summoned back to Moscow for a crisis session of the Supreme Soviet this weekend, amid speculation of dark political intrigue behind President Boris Yeltsin's decision to sack the chief of the KGB's successor agency.

Viktor Barannikov was dismissed as Minister of Security on Tuesday though a ministry spokesman, Vladimir Stepanov, insisted yesterday that he remained on the ministry staff. Mr Yeltsin's parliamentary rivals challenge the legality of the sacking and say Mr Barannikov, a former policeman, is still minister.

Such confusion, coming in the same week as a debacle over currency reform, has made politicians and political commentators jittery and stirred talk of murky plots and, in the columns of Pravda, tales of troops put on alert and secret meetings between the government and Western spies.

The respected but pro-Yeltsin newspaper Izvestia reported separate secret encounters of its own. It suggested that Mr Barannikov had been fired after being unmasked as a 'political double agent' who, though outwardly loyal to Mr Yeltsin, had met at a dacha outside Moscow with the President's most dangerous opponents, the mutinous Vice-President, Alexander Rutskoi, and the parliamentary chairman, Ruslan Khasbulatov. Such reports, though unsubstantiated, recall memories of how the former head of the KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov, plotted the bungled 1991 putsch at meeting in country villas.

The official reasons given for the departure of Mr Barannikov were unethical behaviour involving trips abroad for his family and botched military operations along the Tajik- Afghan border, where 25 Russian border guards were recently killed in a rebel attack. The attack enraged Russian generals and provided conservatives with another club with which to beat the government. Mr Yeltsin yesterday ordered troop reinforcements to the Tajik border.

The Supreme Soviet, the standing parliament which only last Friday broke for a month-long summer holiday, has been called back for a meeting tomorrow, Tass reported yesterday. The ostensible purpose is to discuss a long-running feud between the Ingush and Ossetes in the North Caucasus but this seems likely to prove no more than an excuse that will allow legislators to discuss more pressing political developments in Moscow.