Against the backdrop of the congressional hearings in Washington, it is interesting to note that the Russian daily Kommersant, which is owned by Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, cited rumors yesterday that the Kremlin inner circle has in recent weeks been carrying out “unofficial negotiations” aimed at ensuring that Yeltsin, his family and his close associates will not be persecuted or prosecuted when (some might say “if”) he leaves power. The paper noted that when Yeltsin recently talked by telephone with U.S. President Bill Clinton, he discovered–“to his surprise”–that the West is not willing to accept him and his household “in case of trouble.” After this, the Kremlin reportedly dispatched Anatoly Chubais, the former privatization tsar who now heads United Energy Systems, to go abroad and work out an agreement by which the Russian president and his inner circle, after the presidential election, will be able to go somewhere in Western Europe without having their bank accounts or property seized. “In return for this favor, they say that Chubais will be promised the portfolio of premier,” the paper wrote. “Against this, as always, is Boris Berezovsky, who would like to see someone else in that post–such as Aleksandr Lebed” (Kommersant, September 22).
On the other hand, the newspaper Segodnya, which is owned by rival oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky (who is currently favoring Moscow mayor and Kremlin foe Yuri Luzhkov), painted a picture of a Kremlin working not on an escape plan, but a battle plan. Kremlin strategists have supposedly hatched a plan which includes intimidating the press. This would begin with the arrest of Aleksandr Khinshtein, the Moskovsky komsomolets journalist who has made attacking Berezovsky a full-time profession. The arrest will be followed by the intimidation of rival businessmen, with the possible arrest of the head of Systema, the Moscow city authorities’ financial-industrial group, and attempts both to “disorganize” Kremlin opponents–which includes new exposures aimed at Luzhkov’s wife Yelena Baturina–and to break up the Moscow mayor’s alliance with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. All this “might take place against the backdrop of the introduction of troops into Chechnya” (Segodnya, September 22).
OPPOSITION LEADERS “DISAPPEARING.”