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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin 'Gatekeeper' Draws Fire From Father's Foes

Hers was a typical Russian woman's story. Trained as a mathematician, she had a job calculating rocket trajectories but quit when her second son was born. If she wanted to talk politics instead of babies, her opinionated father would tell her to mind her own business.

Tatyana Dyachenko, younger daughter of President Boris Yeltsin, has come a long, long way. Suddenly, at the age of 36, she has become, arguably, the second-most influential person in Russia, subordinate only to her ailing father.

Officially, she is simply one member of the analytical center run by Anatoly Chubais, her friend and Yeltsin's chief of staff. Unofficially, she is said to be gatekeeper to the sequestered president -- the principal channel through which requests, proposals, gossip, rumors and petitions reach Yeltsin.

Her position, added to her alliance with the widely detested Chubais, has made her a lightning rod for criticism from Yeltsin's political enemies.

"Perhaps she has brains, but she is only a daughter and not an experienced politician,'' ex-chief of staff Nikolai Yegorov, one of the losers in the Kremlin power struggle for Yeltsin's ear, groused to a Russian newspaper. "She has absolutely no experience in this area and can be easily manipulated.''

Others on the outs with Yeltsin go further still. Fired national security adviser Alexander Lebed blamed Chubais for plotting his dismissal. But he said Chubais used Dyachenko to persuade Yeltsin and bring the plot to fruition.

"There isn't a woman alive who can't be swayed,'' said Lebed, in reference to Yeltsin's daughter.

Former presidential bodyguard and ex-KGB general Alexander Korzhakov, who for years controlled access to Yeltsin, also said Dyachenko allows herself to be used by Chubais in a sinister but implausible plot to mislead Yeltsin and take over Russia.

"She brings him [Yeltsin] the papers, and the papers are all prepared in Chubais' headquarters,'' the embittered Korzhakov charged in an interview with The Guardian newspaper last week.

It was quite a change from the Korzhakov of six months ago, who was firmly entrenched as Yeltsin's confidant and saw Dyachenko as little more than a temporary Kremlin novelty.

"It's good that Tatyana takes an active part in the election campaign,'' he said in April. "It's important to have a person who can openly tell the president anything, even something that is sure to displease him ... And besides, Tanya is her father's daughter. She has inherited in full Yeltsin's firmness of purpose.''

Yeltsin, although detached from day-to-day government affairs, is not so far removed from the intrigues bubbling around him to have missed the latest Korzhakov crack about his daughter.

He quickly ordered Korzhakov stripped of his rank and dismissed from the military for what he called "a series of slanderous announcements addressed at the president of the Russian Federation and members of his family.''

Absent since June from the Kremlin and under doctors' care as he awaits bypass surgery, the 65-year-old Yeltsin sees only a handful of people each week. Chubais and other aides say he reads dossiers and signs decrees for a few hours each day. But he meets his prime minister just once a week and communicates with most of his staff by memo.

Even that meager contact with the outside world is about to end. Yeltsin has canceled all appointments to undergo ''special'' tests, and the awaited surgery is due to take place in the near future.

In the absence of Yeltsin's strong hand and his knack for playing off various courtiers against each other, the hyperactive Chubais, 41, has been able to convert his job as head of the presidential administration into a highly visible position that gives him a hand in all the critical committees and circles of power.

But Chubais is controversial, and much of the controversy is rubbing off on Dyachenko. His alliance with Dyachenko has been evident since the campaign, when she broke with Russian tradition and took an open and active image-making role for her father. She quickly became associated with the Chubais axis of presidential aides, which includes the director of NTV Independent Television and the part owner of the quasi-government station ORT.

In the ensuing battle between Korzhakov and Chubais for influence in Yeltsin's camp, Dyachenko sided with Chubais against Yeltsin's friend.

In an interview conducted just before Korzhakov was fired, Dyachenko said she faulted her father for just one thing.

"I'm surprised how he can tolerate beside him the people who let him down,'' she said. "They should have been sacked.''

The full extent of Dyachenko's influence on government policy and Kremlin personnel matters is almost impossible to gauge. Only rarely does she give interviews, and then only to the Russian TV stations that are controlled by two of Chubais' closest banker friends.

But the attacks on her by the displaced Yeltsin cronies have had a cumulative effect. Russian newspapers are writing about her more and more -- and not in the fawning manner usually reserved for the families of political leaders. Sovietskaya Rossiya, in reviewing criticism leveled against Dyachenko, even included an allusion to King Lear, the ailing Shakespearean monarch betrayed by his ambitious daughters.

Not since the outspoken Raisa Gorbachev has a woman aroused such strong political malice.

"She has made herself vulnerable. She has become involved in political gossip and intrigues,'' said Lilya Shevtsova, an analyst in Moscow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "And nobody knows her political agenda. She never talked openly or sincerely. In fact, she has tried not to speak her mind, knowing the history of Gorbachev's wife, who after being exposed too much became hated.''