A Surfeit of Deep Throats

About 10 days ago, I had telephone calls from two Deep Throats. One of the two I've written about in these pages before. Deep Throat One, as I'll call him, works not a million miles away from the corridors of power; and on occasion in the past he's given me the odd insight into what's been going on around the man he calls The Boss, President Boris Yeltsin.


It was newcomer Deep Throat Two, though, who interested me more this time around. Unlike Deep Throat One, he spoke in idiomatic, unaccented English. He seemed on the face of it to be a Westerner, though he wouldn't identify himself except as an observer with information that he couldn't use. He then proceeded to tell me the following tale.


He said that a massive power struggle was now going on behind the scenes between the old guard and the New Russians, between the surviving old communist functionaries, led by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and a faction of post-communist millionaires and movers-and-shakers, led by newly appointed First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais and Boris Berezovsky, the deputy-head of the Security Council and leader, as Deep Throat Two called him, of Moscow's Jewish mafia. Yeltsin, he went on, was out of it -- seriously ill -- being pumped up with super drugs every time he appeared in public. He wasn't going to last any longer than May 1. Only two months were left, in other words, he said, before showdown time.


Who was going to win in this power struggle? It was obvious, he said, to those who were in the know. Chubais and Berezovsky have prepared their ground extremely well. In addition to his other holdings, Berezovsky "also owns, through Logovaz, Aeroflot outright," though it is supposed to be 51 percent government-owned. He has recently appointed Yeltsin's son-in-law as Aeroflot's deputy director. The Chubais-Berezovsky axis also has a powerful ace-in-the-hole in the form of Alexander Lebed, who would soon be led on as the knight in shining armor and take over from Yeltsin to run -- in his place and in his name -- the country.


Now this "secret war," as he called it, makes on the face of it a sort of nightmarish sense. It's also, more or less, what a lot of the newspapers are saying. The trouble was that when I asked him for some kind of factual backup, Deep Throat Two had little to say. He did allow that he was close to someone high up in government. But apart from this hint -- and from a heartfelt insistence that this battle was going to come to a head within weeks -- it was not much better than street-corner speculation.


So I began to wonder -- I have to say -- why on earth he'd been at pains to tell me this hocus-pocus. I mean, why not tell someone who could do something about it, a working investigative reporter, for example? (All he would say was, "Because you can write about this sort of thing where others can't.") And I began to consider, too, whether he might not be calling up foreign journalists all over Moscow with this story and, if he was, whether he might not have some hidden agenda. Was he part of one of these so-called warring factions? Was he trying to create some kind of news? Inventing and then manipulating gossip, after all, were two tricks of the old KGB.


It was with some relief, then, that I heard -- at around the same time -- the familiar tones of Deep Throat One. "What on earth's going on?" I asked him. "Theft," he answered bluntly. "Theft on a scale no one in the West could ever imagine. Millions and millions of dollars being regularly signed away to family-owned businesses and cronies. Deputy ministers demanding 30 percent of every deal they sign off on. Everyone knows about it -- the foreign bank accounts, the palaces in the country-side, the properties abroad -- and no one raises a finger."


"And The Boss?"


"He's turned into Brezhnev -- just led out on ceremonial occasions, like the relic of some saint."


"While those who run the country fight amongst themselves?"


"Yes."


"Chubais and Chernomyrdin."


"Yes."


"What's the solution?"


"Stalin," he thundered. "If Stalin were to return now, he would be greeted like a God."


"General Lebed as Stalin?" I suggested quietly.


He laughed. "Yes, but first Lebed has to get there," he said. "It all depends which side has got him on board."


So there you have it -- if "it" is the right word: the higher (if only very slightly) gossip. I suspect it's exactly what Western journalists are saying among themselves -- though I frankly haven't had the moxie to ask them.