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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

As Yeltsin Mends, Chubais Faces Battle

Kremlin chief of staff Anatoly Chubais, accused by his foes of usurping power in the four months since Boris Yeltsin fell ill, faces a battle for political survival as the Russian president recovers.


Yeltsin is under pressure from the opposition Communists to dismiss his "red-haired cardinal" to show he is back in charge after his quintuple-bypass operation Nov. 5.


But Chubais will be out to prove that, although his powers are likely to be checked when Yeltsin returns, his skills as an organizer and his mastery of political intrigues make him invaluable to the president.


"Chubais has shown himself to be an extraordinary political creature. It is hard to say what Yeltsin will decide to do with him," said Irina Kobrinskaya, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


"I don't rule out that he could be replaced as head of the administration. He would not be needed if the president were in full control again."


Many analysts disagree with her, saying the 65-year-old president is not about to jettison one of Russia's best political strategists.


"I don't go along with those who say Chubais will be sacked," said Andrei Piontkowsky of Moscow's independent Center for Strategic Studies.


"I think he is a much-needed element as a brilliant administrator. Someone is also needed to organize sorting out the huge problems with tax collection."


In Yeltsin's absence, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin gradually took over many of the president's official duties and assumed full power for 23 hours during the operation.


But many Russian politicians believe Chubais, a 41-year-old former privatization guru and supporter of radical reforms, has been pulling the strings behind the scenes and has at least as much say in decision-making as the prime minister.


Chubais steadied the ship while the captain was not at the helm, but Yeltsin will be anxious to show there is no need for anyone to play such a role when he is back in the Kremlin.


"The president must again win the trust of ordinary voters or, more precisely, the trust of the majority of people," the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper said Sunday.


"The president's most important decision in the process of his political 'renewal' will be serious personnel changes."


Since Chubais became head of the Kremlin administration last July and then took on the role of the president's "gatekeeper," he has become an integral part of Yeltsin's team. Yeltsin may now regard him as too valuable, especially because his knowledge of economic affairs and his administrative skills will be a bonus as the president tries to tackle the economic problems that have piled up in his absence.


This includes improving tax collection, a major problem singled out last month by the International Monetary Fund.


"It would be much more useful for Yeltsin just to give him some kind of a reprimand," Piontkowsky said.


He suggested that one way to punish Chubais would be to dismiss businessman Boris Berezovsky, who was controversially appointed to Yeltsin's influential Security Council last month despite a lack of experience in security matters.


Berezovsky is a close ally of Chubais, and the Communists said the Kremlin chief of staff overstepped his authority by bringing him into a position of influence.


Public hatred of Chubais for his role in the economic reforms that have increased hardships for many ordinary Russians could now work in his favor.


Many politicians say Chubais knows he is unpopular and harbors no presidential ambitions, meaning he is not a direct threat to Yeltsin or Chernomyrdin -- a likely presidential candidate at an election due in 2000.