Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 186

In the excerpt from Yeltsin’s book published in Ogonek, the former president has interesting things to say about various Russian political figures, including Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s controversial privatization scheme and of Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign, who is now head of United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s electricity monopoly. In one excerpt, Yeltsin writes that Chubais was categorically opposed to replacing Sergei Stepashin with Putin in the post of prime minister, saying that Chubais seemed to feel that such a move would have “catastrophic consequences.” According to Yeltsin, Chubais tried to talk Putin out of accepting the post, and when he failed to do so, “decided to act through the [presidential] administration.” According to Yeltsin, Chubais had a meeting with Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, former Kremlin chief of staff [and ghost writer of Yeltsin’s previous memoirs] Valentin Yumashev and Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, who at the time was also a presidential “image” adviser. Chubais, Yeltsin writes, argued in the meeting that “the unjustified firing of Stepashin will be viewed as the total decomposition of the Kremlin” and evidence that Yeltsin had “lost his mind,” which the Kremlin’s enemies–including the State Duma, the Federation Council and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov–would take as a signal that it was time to attack. According to Yeltsin’s account, Chubais also said that if Stepashin remained prime minister, he (Chubais) would be willing to return as Kremlin chief of staff, a post he held in 1996 (Russian agencies, October 5).

Chubais, of course, was overruled, and Putin became prime minister. Chubais subsequently became one of Putin’s strongest supporters–at least in public. The section on Chubais is interesting for several reasons. First of all, it gives further evidence of the degree to which he had fallen out of the Kremlin inner circle. Throughout the 1990s, Yeltsin valued Chubais’ advice to such a degree that he reportedly even had, as Vlast magazine recently reported, “a button labeled ‘A. Chubais’ on his special communications console”–that is, a direct phone line to Chubais. Vlast, citing sources in the Kremlin, reported that in May 1999, “the button was literally ripped out by Yumashev and Dyachenko” (Vlast, No. 38, September 2000). Second, Yeltsin’s account of Chubais’ opposition to Putin’s appointment as prime minister will obviously not strengthen Chubais’ position vis-a-vis the current president. It is interesting to note here that Ogonek, which published the excerpt, is part of the media empire of Boris Berezovsky, a long-time Chubais foe, and that the published excerpt comes amid rumors that Chubais is in political trouble. Various Russian media recently reported that Chubais would soon leave for a month-long management course in Switzerland, and the reports were confirmed by Chubais’ office. Some observers said the fact Russia’s electricity chief was leaving the country for such a long period at the start of the crucial winter heating period was a sign that something unpleasant for him was in the offing (see the Monitor, September 25).