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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scandal May Strain Clinton-Yeltsin Ties




WASHINGTON -- Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the architect of the Clinton administration's Russia policy, went before Congress this week to defend the administration against Republican charges that it ignored evidence of massive corruption on the part of top Russian officials.


What was striking about Talbott's performance was that in his prepared remarks to the Foreign Relations Committee - including 7 1/2 pages of written testimony - he failed to mention, even once, Clinton's "strategic partner" - President Boris Yeltsin.


Talbott's omission comes at a time when Yeltsin's family is much in the news. On Wednesday, Thomas Renyi, head of the Bank of New York, said that Leonid Dyachenko, husband of Yeltsin's younger daughter and adviser Tatyana, had two accounts in a Bank of New York branch in the Cayman Islands. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. investigators said these accounts held $2.7 million.


Intriguingly, however, it was the Clinton administration itself that appeared to be behind some of the news stories concerning Dyachenko's bank accounts.


The New York Times reported Tuesday that the FBI had discovered that Leonid Dyachenko and Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's property-management department, had moved "substantial" sums of money through the Bank of New York. The Times cited senior Clinton administration officials as the source.


Now that the corruption charges appear to be closing in on the Russian leader and his inner circle, dubbed "the family," could the Clinton administration have decided to cut its ties to "Friend Boris?" Probably not. Several observers suggested the leakers might be dissidents trying to undermine administration policy.


Others believe the administration is trying to limit damage from the Bank of New York scandal - particularly if it believes that further evidence of corrupt practices will soon become public.


"Given the reality of the Republicans and Democrats engaged in a political fight, it is impossible in the American political system to suppress such evidence," said Ariel Cohen, a Russia scholar with the Heritage Foundation in Washington.


"Because even if you try - and I hope nobody does - it will be leaked out to the opposite side, and then the culpability of administration officials will be even higher."


Whatever the motive, the leakers may make waves in the Kremlin.


"When anybody in the U.S. government makes a leak to the press about something that concerns the immediate Yeltsin family, that's getting very close," said E. Wayne Merry, who served as a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow until 1994.


"There is a pretty good personal and professional relationship between the two presidents - their famous Bill-to-Boris, Boris-to-Bill messages - and sometimes those messages get pretty sensitive," Merry said.


"And I would not be at all surprised if there was a Boris-to-Bill message in response to this, partly because, I think, Yeltsin's view would be: 'Politics is politics, but you stay away from my family. I don't talk about yours, you don't talk about mine.'"