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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Evicts Zhirinovsky In Palace Gift About-Face

The Russian government has abruptly changed its mind and taken back a palace that was given to ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's party shortly before the July 3 presidential election.

The reversal is a victory for the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the previous tenant of the Yusupov Palace in central Moscow, which had been complaining since June 27 when the premises they had been occupying for four years were handed over to Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party.

Viktor Konov, a spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, said Thursday that the premier had ordered the State Property Committee to give back the palace to the Academy. No explanation was given.

"We've already taken steps," Konov said. "The agrarian scholars can keep the palace and the State Property Committee must find other accommodations for Zhirinovsky."

In a front-tage story Thursday, Izvestia reported that the reversal was sparked by a note from President Boris Yeltsin to Chernomyrdin that declared the 17th-century red-brick mansion was "the unconditional property of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences." According to the undated text published by the newspaper, Yeltsin gave the prime minister five days to investigate the State Property Committee transfer and "strictly punish" all "guilty" parties.

Presidential press service head Igor Ignatiev said that while he could not confirm the note's existence, "if Izvestia wrote it, then I have no reason to doubt that it's true." It could have been signed by the president anytime within the last two to three weeks, Ignatiev speculated.

The timing of the palace's transfer has sparked speculation that it was a gift to win Zhirinovsky's support for Yeltsin in the July 3 run-off against Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov.

Ignatiev on Thursday dismissed these allegations as "baseless" since "it was obviously the president who signed the note [returning the palace to the academy]."

Igor Plotnikov, a spokesman for the State Property Committee echoed the Kremlin's denial that politics had played a role in the contract between Zhirinovsky and the committee.

"When someone wants something, they can think up whatever they want to get it," Plotnikov said, suggesting anyone who disagreed could apply to the court.

Plotnikov refused to comment on the committee's plans for returning the palace to the academy or explain how committee officials had initially managed to overlook a 1992 government decree explicitly naming the academy as the palace's owner.

"We have 3,300 renters of federal property and I don't know what's sensational about this agreement [between Zhirinovsky and the committee] because I haven't seen it," said Plotnikov. "In my opinion, it's of no interest to the public."

According to the June agreement signed between Zhirinovsky and committee deputy chairman Vitaly Zelenkin, the LDPR received the 2,111-square-meter building as office space for its parliamentary staff for a period of 10 years. In return, the party was obliged to complete an estimated $20 million restoration of the palace and its interior.

But the LDPR is not ready to pack its bags yet. "We don't have this note so we consider that [the reversal of the decision] is a fantasy of Izvestia and of the presidential office," said LDPR spokesman Viktor Filatov. Despite two clashes with militia that reportedly barred Zhirinovsky and his deputies from taking possession of the building, Filatov added that the faction has already moved some staff into its new palace quarters and is "working normally there."

Meanwhile, academy officials, who appealed to both Yeltsin and security tsar Alexander Lebed to resolve the impasse, said Thursday they considered the tug-of-war as finally over.

"There's no one higher than the president," said academy vice president Ivan Tsirin. "His order will be fulfilled."