A portrait of Tatyana Dyachenko, the Kremlin “liaison officer”
By Yelena Dikun
Public opinion ascribes a special role in the governing of the Russian state to Boris Yeltsin’s younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko: she is said to be not only Boris Nikolaevich’s chief image-maker, but also his first adviser. Mrs. Dyachenko received official status as presidential adviser on June 30 last year. The necessity of "legalizing" Tatyana Borisovna had been raised in the Kremlin many times, but the president hesitated for a long time before deciding to do so. There were two reasons for this. First, there were fears that Russians would not approve what they would see as nepotism in the Kremlin. A poll conducted in the fall of 1996 showed that the majority of respondents would react negatively to such a decision. Second, Tatyana Borisovna herself did not feel ready for public politics. She was happier to stay in the shadows and act as "liaison officer" between her father and his team of " young reformers." Whenever journalists asked why she did not take an official position on her father’s staff, Tatyana Borisovna would answer modestly: "When my father says so, it will happen."
One episode reportedly decided the matter: when, in Denver last year, protocol required all of the "Big Eight" to be isolated from their aides and press secretaries, only Dyachenko, by virtue of her status as President Yeltsin’s daughter, could break in to see her father and inform him of the latest scandals rocking Moscow. So Boris Nikolaevich was forearmed when he emerged to face a barrage of journalists’ questions concerning Russian Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev, who had been filmed cavorting in a sauna with ladies of easy virtue.
Conventional wisdom has it that Dyachenko caught the political bug in February 1996, at the start of the presidential campaign. But that is not quite true. Back in early 1989, when Boris Yeltsin, then in disgrace, was fighting for a seat as a People’s Deputy of the USSR, his younger daughter was there beside him. Mikhail Poltoranin, one of Yeltsin’s comrades-in-arms from those days, recalls a curious story. "I urgently needed video-cassettes of the CPSU Central Committee’s dirty insinuations [about Yeltsin] to distribute in the regions. Yeltsin’s daughter was charged with supplying them. We agreed to meet at the metro station. When I got there, Tatyana was standing there in the rain, without her jacket. She had wrapped the cassettes in it so they wouldn’t get wet."
Putting Dyachenko on Yeltsin’s campaign staff was the idea of her long-time friend, Valentin Yumashev, who is now head of the presidential administration and her immediate boss. According to former presidential bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, "She was given an apartment in the first Kremlin building, in the same apartments where the First Lady lived. Tatyana was not shy about living there, and accepted her ‘work’ in the Kremlin as something routine and natural, a job like any other."
According to other high-ranking Kremlin officials, however, it was hard for Dyachenko to adapt to Anatoly Chubais’ team of intellectuals, who made her visibly nervous. But she did her best to become a part of the group, and to show everyone that she was not just the president’s favorite daughter, but a full-fledged adviser in her own right.
Dyachenko’s characteristic trait — her will to prove herself — was noticed by her parents when she was a child. Boris Nikolaevich brought his daughter up strictly. Russian schoolchildren are graded on a scale of one to five. If Tanya brought home a "four," her father would lay her notebook down without a word, and without his parental signature. The girl took this hard. She forgot about going to play outside (though she had grown up a tomboy) and sat instead at her books so that she could bring the grade up to a "five" the next week.
After a childhood in provincial Sverdlovsk, Tatyana enrolled at Moscow State University in the department of computer mathematics and cybernetics. There she was surrounded by gold-medal students from the top Moscow schools. Once again, she had to prove that she was as good as they were. What she lacked in talent, she made up for in determination and by her ability to listen and take things in. She resembles her father in her ability to teach herself.
When she joined the president’s team, Dyachenko made a trip to Paris to talk to Claude Chirac, daughter of the French president who works as her father’s adviser. It turned out that, in many ways, the young women faced similar problems: in France, too, many people disapproved of the president’s daughter playing a role in politics. The Frenchwoman gave Dyachenko some practical advice; for example, to be as inconspicuous as possible. Dyachenko took this advice and now, whenever she accompanies her father on official visits, she takes pains to stay in the background. In Kyiv, for example, she watched the official ceremonies from behind a fence, and in St. Petersburg, at the Russian Museum, she hid from the television cameras in a dark corner. To this day, Dyachenko has not given a single interview and does not like it when press photographers try to take her picture — her bodyguards immediately form a circle around her. When Yeltsin goes abroad, the presidential protocol and security services work hard to keep the president’s daughter away from the press. She has had to look at world-renowned cities — Baden-Baden, Strasbourg — in the dark, late at night.
Although she has spent half a year as the official presidential "image-maker," Dyachenko still gives vague answers to questions of what exactly it is that she does: "The same thing I did during the elections. I help him with the little things," she says. Among the recommendations which Dyachenko gave her father during the elections, two are well-known: it was her idea that he dance in front of the voters in Rostov, and that his bodyguards take off their dark glasses, so that they wouldn’t look like crooks.
But Dyachenko is clearly being modest when she plays down her role. One can hardly call a "little thing" her mission on that fateful evening when the boxes full of dollars were detained on their way out of the White House — when, preempting Korzhakov, she was the first to tell the president the news and turn the tide in favor of Chubais’ team. And when, last November, Chubais wanted to remove Security Council deputy secretary Boris Berezovsky from his post, his main problem was to how to "neutralize" Dyachenko. Tatyana Borisovna had clearly been protecting Berezovsky for a long time (rumor has it that Berezovsky is the Yeltsin family’s main sponsor and financial director). The (now former) Minister of State Property, Maksim Boiko, convened a session of the newly-formed collegium of government representatives on ORT, which included Dyachenko, at the very moment that Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov were talking the president into firing Berezovsky. When Dyachenko and Yumashev reached the scene, it was too late — the first deputy premiers were leaving the president’s office with the signed decree in their hands.
Dyachenko still has much to learn about maintaining her composure in uncomfortable situations. Although she says that she is not impressionable by nature, and that she developed an immunity to unpleasant articles and rumors about the presidential family faster than her parents, she continues to take some things quite hard. When one journalist made a reference to her first marriage, she burst into tears. She is known to have been angry when Korzhakov, the godfather of her younger son, disclosed the secret of her first marriage to the newspaper Komsomolskaya pravda. Nor does she like to discuss her present husband, Leonid Dyachenko. According to press reports, the president’s son-in-law is a shareholder of the Interural company, a metal-exporter in the Urals region. But when the present author asked Dyachenko what business her husband was in, she thought for about thirty seconds before answering vaguely: "I can’t say exactly. Something to do with wood-working. He’s the director of a firm."
Dyachenko once admitted to a small group of journalists that she feared her participation in politics had had a negative effect on her ability to carry out her family obligations. Her little son Gleb has been largely brought up by his grandmother and aunt, and is now cared for by a nanny. Dyachenko holds up her older sister Lena as an example. She is a model housewife, "whose house is always clean, who always serves four-course dinners, and whose kids are always well-behaved." As for herself, Dyachenko fully understands that some people find use her for their own interests: "That always happens." But, she says, "I try not to allow myself to be used."
Translated by Mark Eckert
Yelena Dikun is a political columnist for Izvestiya.
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