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  •   Yeltsin Fires Tycoon From Commonwealth Post

    By David Hoffman
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Friday, March 5, 1999; Page A30

    MOSCOW, March 4—Russian President Boris Yeltsin, stepping into the political fray from his hospital bed, effectively fired business magnate Boris Berezovsky today as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States -- a loose association of former Soviet republics.

    For several weeks, Berezovsky, a politically ambitious and outspoken tycoon, has been loudly criticizing the government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and a newspaper he owns has published reports alleging that Primakov's top deputies are corrupt. Berezovsky also has lashed out at the Communists in Primakov's cabinet and demanded that the Russian Communist Party be banned.

    At the same time, Primakov has talked menacingly of putting crooked bankers in jail, and anti-corruption police have targeted Berezovsky's businesses in a series of high-profile raids. Rival newspapers have claimed Berezovsky secretly tapped Yeltsin's family telephone conversations and published the transcripts.

    In a brief statement today, the Kremlin announced that Yeltsin, recovering from a stomach ulcer at the Central Clinical Hospital, asked the heads of the other 11 commonwealth nations to agree to Berezovsky's dismissal "for exceeding his powers and failing to carry out orders." The Interfax news agency quoted sources as saying Yeltsin had urged Berezovsky to cut short a trip around the commonwealth states and return to Moscow.

    The full significance of Yeltsin's action is not yet clear, but it does mark a comedown for Berezovsky, since the commonwealth post added a political dimension to his status as a financial baron. Only this week, he was hopscotching around former Soviet capitals, arriving today in Baku, Azerbaijan.

    Berezovsky, 53, whose business holdings range from oil to media to airlines, has had an often contradictory relationship with Yeltsin and his family. Some political insiders here believe he has supported the president's family financially, although he has denied doing so.

    Berezovsky led a group of business magnates -- known here as the oligarchs -- that bankrolled Yeltsin's 1996 reelection, and he was close to Valentin Yumashev, Yeltsin's former chief of staff. But, like Yeltsin, he has sometimes suffered from impetuousness. At one point last year, Yeltsin reportedly threatened to run him out of Russia if he did not stop scheming for political advantage.

    Officials here said that the other commonwealth leaders will most likely back Yeltsin's move to dismiss Berezovsky, who was appointed executive director of the organization last April. The group, headquartered in Minsk, the Belarusan capital, is riven with disagreements and appears to be crumbling; Russia's economic collapse last August only accelerated its disintegration. Efforts to schedule a commonwealth summit for this spring have proved futile.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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