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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Back As Chief of CIS




Banished from the Kremlin last fall, business tycoon Boris Berezovsky made an unexpected political comeback Wednesday, getting the obscure job of running the Commonwealth of Independent States.


Berezovsky's appointment as secretary of the CIS, made during a summit in Moscow of the loose grouping of 12 former Soviet states, was not proposed by the Kremlin directly.


President Boris Yeltsin, who appeared on national television last fall to announce the sacking of Berezovsky, reacted coolly to the appointment which was made at the suggestion of Ukrainian leader Leonid Kuchma.


"He is a spirited man," Yeltsin said of Berezovsky during a post-summit news conference. "For many, this is unexpected," Yeltsin said. "But I swallow it. It's for the sake of work."


Observers remained split on whether Berezovsky's comeback marked a rapprochement with Yeltsin and whether it would give the multi-billionaire a base to influence government policy. The job of managing the diplomatically ungainly CIS has until now been neither prestigious nor powerful.


But with Russia as the dominant force in the CIS, the appointment could not have gone ahead without Yeltsin's acquiescence.


"There was one episode when I fired him," Yeltsin said at the summit. "But I am not worried about that. I will be working with him objectively."


Berezovsky, 52, served for a year as deputy secretary of the Security Council, mostly dealing with the separatist region of Chechnya. But he was fired by Yeltsin last November after the president accused him of openly lobbying for his business interests, which include oil companies, airlines and the media.


This month Yeltsin was reported to have threatened Berezovsky with exile from Russia. According to Russian newspapers, Yeltsin was furious with the tycoon for using his access to the president's family and administration to influence Kremlin decisions.


While he is now once again a public servant, Berezovsky may well have a thankless task.


Russian nationalists would like to promote the CIS as an alternative to the hegemony Moscow lost with the fall of the Soviet Union.


But the CIS countries, which include all the former Soviet republics except the Baltics, have attacked Moscow for throwing its weight around.


At an uncomfortable summit last fall in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, Yeltsin was chastised for failing to do much economic or political good with the union. At Wednesday's Moscow summit, the 12 leaders failed to issue a joint statement after their meeting. Some of the CIS presidents attending hinted that they could agree on little besides choosing Berezovsky to replace Ivan Korotchenya, an obscure bureaucrat.


"This meeting went even worse than the one in Chisinau," President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan was quoted as saying in Wednesday evening's issue of the Izvestia daily. "Again we talked about this and that, drank some champagne and went home. I now have little hope in a future for the CIS."


Berezovsky appeared to welcome the challenge. "The time has come to build a viable CIS," he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.


Georgian President Eduard Shevarnadze, said that Berezovsky's appointment was a surprise. "It was a little unexpected. Today we made a novel but interesting step," Shevarnadze said at a news conference.


Some political analysts in Moscow said Berezovsky could not have been appointed to the CIS post without Yeltsin's blessing. They interpret his new job as a sign that the business mogul still wields considerable influence in the Kremlin.


"This appointment means that recent rumors of a split between Yeltsin and Berezovsky have been greatly exaggerated," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Fond Politika research center.


Nikonov said Berezovsky has been lobbying for this assignment for several weeks through his ally and former Security Council boss, Ivan Rybkin.


"Few should be surprised. Rybkin has been lobbying other heads of CIS states about Berezovsky for the past month," Nikonov said.


Rybkin is now Russia's acting minister in charge of CIS affairs.


Others, however, said Yeltsin has simply found a harmless corner of politics in which to hide Berezovsky.


"This is the sort of political exile of Berezovsky that Yeltsin threatened a few days ago," said Sergei Markov, president of the Institute of Political Studies think tank.


Although Yeltsin was re-elected chairman of the CIS on Friday, the body's official headquarters, from which Berezovsky will work, are located in Minsk, Belarus.


"Berezovsky has been cleverly removed from Russia's political arena," Markov said.


Alexander Shokhin, the parliamentary leader of the Our Home Is Russia Faction, interpreted Berezovsky's appointment as a threat to Anatoly Chubais. The former first deputy prime minister is often seen as a close ally to Berezovsky's chief business rival, Uneximbank President Vladimir Potanin.


"We have two moguls in Russian politics who are fighting against each other -- Berezovsky and Chubais," Shokhin was quoted as saying by Interfax.


Chubais is in the running to head the state electricity company Unified Energy Systems. Shokhin said Berezovsky and Chubais may yet make up and be friends should Chubais get the post.


"We will see another spiral in relations between these two influential people, this time as partners," Shokhin said.


Markov also said Berezovsky may yet make up with the Kremlin.


"I think Yeltsin probably respects Berezovsky to a certain extent. He respects fighters like himself. But Yeltsin does not agree with Berezovsky's current projects," Markov said.


One of Berezovsky's latest projects has been to use his media to help Alexander Lebed's gubernatorial campaign in Krasnoyarsk. The retired general, who bitterly dislikes Yeltsin, plans to use the Siberian province as his launching pad for the presidency in 2000.


Berezovsky's appointment drew loud cheers from the Lebed campaign headquarters in Krasnoyarsk. "Berezovsky is an energetic man," said Lebed's press secretary, Vladimir Yakushenko. "The appointment is very positive for the country."