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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Attack's Opponents Find Lines Cut

Reformist politicians who have openly protested the Kremlin's handling of the Chechnya crisis are finding out what President Boris Yeltsin's opponents learned last year: Cross him, and the good things in your life start disappearing.


When former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi fell out of favor last year, he lost his Mercedes; Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin lost his dacha.


This time, leading State Duma members Sergei Yushenkov and Mikhail Poltoranin, both long-time supporters of Yeltsin, were deprived of something far more precious -- the special phone lines that link them to the corridors of power in the Kremlin and the White House.


Yushenkov, the Duma Defense Committee chairman who has vocally opposed the president's decision to send the army into the breakaway Caucasus republic, had his special government phone lines turned off Sunday when he used the connection to call aides to Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev after Russian tanks entered the breakaway region.


Yushenkov, who backed Yeltsin in his power struggle against the likes of Rutskoi and Zorkin last year, responded to Sunday's cut-off in much the same way as his predecessors in privilege deprivation: He called for Yeltsin's removal.


"The president doesn't want to talk to us," said Yushenkov said. "He is ignoring our demands. He is ignoring our advice. We have only one legal recourse, and that's impeachment."


Yushenkov's plight brought no sympathy from one former Supreme Soviet deputy, who recalled that Yushenkov was still square in the president's camp when the lines went dead in the former parliament soon after Yeltsin dissolved it in September, 1993.


"Let him have a taste of his own medicine," said the deputy, who preferred to remain anonymous.


On Monday, the government lines fell silent in the office of Mikhail Poltoranin, a former Yeltsin confidant who is currently chairman of the Duma's Press Committee. Poltoranin had not made any outspoken remarks on Chechnya -- the lines went dead after former Soviet dissident Sergei Kovalyov, Yeltsin's adviser on human rights, used the lines to try to reach First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and General Chief of Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov, the only two men who could authorize a plane to take Kovalyov to Chechnya.


Kovalyov has vehemently opposed a military solution in Chechnya, but the official reason for the communication breakdown was a faulty cable. Kovalyov, speaking at a gathering in honor of the fifth anniversary of the death of human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, dismissed this explanation.


"I am not inclined to believe all that nonsense about damaged cables," Kovalyov said. "It's clear that those are lies, all lies." Denied a phone line, Kovalyov tried to reach Yeltsin by fax.


"As they explained to me yesterday, the president and his reception do not have a fax machine," Kovalyov said, bringing a hearty laugh from the high-powered audience, which included Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and former Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, who support Yeltsin's policies. Later, members of the audience made donations to buy a fax machine for Yeltsin. Fyodorov contributed $1; Kozyrev only 100 rubles.


This generous gesture apparently revived the state's goodwill toward the former dissident. On Tuesday, Kovalyov got his plane, and both Poltoranin and Yushenkov had their lines restored.