As dramatic as the negotiations with Yugoslavia have been, in the innermost circles of Russia’s government foreign policy is a distinctly secondary concern.

The group around Boris Yeltsin, dubbed “the Family” by the Moscow press, devotes its attention to installing followers in key posts in government agencies that handle the flow of money through the system. By some accounts, the Family has gained effective control of the finance ministry, the customs service, the tax office, the state pension fund, and the ministries of fuels and energy. The group is said to have taken aim at the Central Bank, arms exporter Rosvooruzhenie and the great official monopolies Gazprom (natural gas) and UES (electricity).

These agencies handle easily $80 billion a year. The tax office and the pension fund in particular are creditors of virtually every enterprise of any size in Russia. They offer their masters unparalleled opportunities for using the law and the state as instruments of extortion.

If the press is to be believed, the Family is no shadowy conspiracy. Its members include the President Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, financier and media baron Boris Berezovsky, Sibneft Oil chief Roman Abramovich, and present and former presidential aides Aleksandr Voloshin and Valentin Yumashev.

Berezovsky, under warrant of arrest just five weeks ago, enjoyed toying with reporters who asked about his return to prominence. His aim is liberal reform and the banning of the Communist Party, he said. He denied having much influence over personnel, though he was satisfied with “70 percent” of the cabinet appointments. Asked if he would support Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin for president in 2000, he said Stepashin is “not an option.” He still backs Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, he added.