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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vow of 3 Trillion Rubles Ends Miners' Strike

KEMEROVO, Central Siberia -- The last Russian coal miners headed back to work Monday, ending a two-day strike over back pay that saw the government yield to demands to provide an extra 3 trillion rubles ($633 million) to the industry.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin signed Saturday a schedule of wage payments through June as part of a 40 percent increase in allocations to the industry and an overall 10.4 trillion ruble 1996 financing package, his office said, ending the walkout by hundreds of thousands of miners that brought coal production nationwide to a virtual halt.

"There was no reason to continue the strike," Ivan Mokhnachuk, deputy head of the trade union, said Monday in Moscow. "We wouldn't have been able to get out of them [the government] more than we did."

The decision to end the strike came in a narrow 6-to-5 vote during an overnight meeting of trade union leaders late Friday. But union representatives said they would strike again March 1 if the government failed to adhere to its promises.

"We don't have this money, it exists only on paper," said Gennady Mikhailets, head of the regional miners' union in Kuzbass, Russia's coal-producing heartland. He said he had voted against calling off the work stoppage, noting that a key demand by miners to find a way to deal with inter-enterprise debts and nonpayments by coal consumers -- was not met by the government.

But most miners resumed work Saturday after the union decision, with the last group in Intinskaya in the Far North going back to their jobs Monday, Mokhnachuk said.

Chernomyrdin, speaking to reporters and never had any ideology, any democratic convictions of his own ... Sometimes I think about Boris Nikolayevich as a tragically lonely man, especially now when the democrats have left him, the democrats who, in fact, made Yeltsin Yeltsin."

But if Yeltsin, however flawed, is seen as a sympathetic figure, those around him are portrayed as scheming, vain and downright dangerous.

Alexander Korzhakov, the shadowy, powerful figure who is Yeltsin's bodyguard and personal friend, comes in for the lion's share of censure:

"Korzhakov feels to some extent that under Yeltsin he is a sort of family retainer who fetches the slippers, and can sit down to some soup and a shot of vodka with Yeltsin, and in the process give his opinion of certain newspaper articles, or bring in a person who, perhaps, should not really be seeing Boris Nikolayevich," Kostikov told NTV interviewer Irina Zaitseva.

But Korzhakov is more than just a conduit to the head of state. According to Kostikov's account, the head of Yeltsin's security service controls every aspect of life in the Kremlin.

"All of my telephones were tapped," writes Kostikov. "All of the president's aides assumed that they were being monitored, and if we had anything to say to each other that we did not want the Kremlin's 'big ears' to hear, we just exchanged notes, which we later destroyed."

On occasion, Kostikov recounts, aides gathered for a bit of fun at their listeners' expense. After a few drinks they would assign roles, with one becoming Yeltsin, another Korzhakov, yet another assuming the persona of Mikhail Barsukov, now head of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, descendent of the KGB.

"We proposed funny toasts in their names, gave evaluations, political opinions. You can just imagine what the poor workers went through who had to figure out the tape."

The president is at the mercy of his inner circle, Kostikov said. While aides such as Georgy Satarov, Yury Baturin and Alexander Livshits battle for access to the head of state, they are constantly outmaneuvered by the more bureaucratically canny Viktor Ilyushin, whom Kostikov describes as jealous of anyone who claims the president's attention.

"Something unfortunate is happening to the information fed the president lately," he said. "Either he has less time to study it, or the information itself is being warped or twisted in some way, in ways favorable to some group of people close to the president."

Ilyushin, Korzhakov and chief of staff Sergei Filatov were engaged in a permanent competition for Yeltsin's ear, said Kostikov. Filatov, one of the few democrats left in Yeltsin's entourage, was recently replaced by Nikolai Yegorov.

But Yeltsin, with all his faults, is still Russia's best hope, according to Kostikov. The president, in failing health and shorn of the charisma that propelled him to power in 1990 and 1991, is the only one who can ensure a soft landing for the country's falling democratic hopes.

"If [Yeltsin] becomes president for a second term, I believe that democracy will slowly retreat under the onslaught of the opposition," he said. "It will be one step forward, two steps back. But if other people come to power, the Communists, for instance, democracy will collapse in a matter of weeks.