Deputy Berezovsky Comes Under Fire

The Council of Elders of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, a less-than-influential body in this small patch of the North Caucasus, is trying to recall the man voters just four months ago chose to represent them in the State Duma: Boris Berezovsky.

It is perhaps an insignificant incident in itself. But it comes amid talk entertained in some national media that the powerful Kremlin insider has fallen from grace.

In an open letter, the elders accused Berezovsky of failing to fulfill his duties as the region's Duma deputy.

That letter comes on the heels of President-elect Vladimir Putin's talk of getting rid of the "oligarchs as a class."

It also comes as the General Prosecutor's Office is winding up an investigation of Aeroflot, which has been accused of laundering money through Swiss companies tied to Berezovsky, and as Berezovsky-controlled ORT television has been denied automatic renewal of its broadcasting license, and instead will have to bid for it in a tender next month.

Some media have reported - relying on unspecified sources - that moves are afoot to strip Berezovsky of his immunity from prosecution, which he enjoys as a member of the Duma.

"These incidents are all parallel to each other, and they all have the same logic," Sergei Markov, a politics-watcher at the Moscow-based Center for Political Studies, said in a telephone interview Friday. "The logic is that Boris Berezovsky is not as ingenious a strategist as some people tend to think. He doesn't look too far ahead."

But the Prosecutor General's Office refused to comment Friday on such vague talk. And others cautioned against assuming Berezovsky was in real trouble.

"If [Berezovsky] is on his way out, it would not be the first time in his political career," said Nikolai Petrov, a political scientist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It's too early to predict his political death."

The chief executive of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, retired General Vladimir Semyonov, said Thursday his administration had received telegrams from "all regions of the republic, from public organizations and entire collectives of industrial enterprises," complaining about Berezovsky.

But Semyonov denied doing anything to organize the campaign by the Council of Elders.

Karachayevo-Cherkessia is split by growing ethnic tensions between Semyonov's ethnic Karachai group and the people of his arch-rival, Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev.

In October, a newly elected Semyonov defused tensions in the region as part of an agreement with Derev brokered by Prime Minister Putin and Berezovsky. Back then, both Derev and Semyonov supported Berezovsky's bid to represent their region in the Duma.

This week, Derev defended Berezovsky as Semyonov attacked him. "Nothing is known about such an organization as the Council of Elders," Interfax quoted Derev as saying Wednesday.

Berezovsky told Interfax that Semyonov was attacking him to distract public attention from "the real reasons for the breakdown of the process of political settlement" in the republic.

There is no legislation governing how a Duma deputy could be stripped of his post, although Petrov said draft laws on that are under discussion.