Putin dismisses Yeltsin’s daughter from Kremlin administration
MOSCOW- Acting President Vladimir Putin fired Boris Yeltsin’s daughter Monday in one of his first official acts, moving quickly to distance himself from Yeltsin’s scandal-tinged administration.
The speedy removal of Tatyana Dyachenko from her Kremlin post as ”image adviser” sent a clear message to the Russian public that Putin wants nothing to do with the widespread corruption that has plagued Russia and may be the single biggest obstacle to the country’s development.
The terse announcement of Dyachenko’s dismissal marked Putin’s first personnel change since taking office Friday. He also fired three other members of Yeltsin’s inner circle, whom many Russians have come to despise.
Dyachenko had been accused of exercising undue influence over government policy, and has recently been a focus of an investigation into allegations of Kremlin bribery.
Putin, who is seen as the strong front-runner in presidential elections expected March 26, has indicated that one of his main goals is to clean up the widespread corruption that may be the single biggest obstacle to Russia’s development. He has sternly warned government bureaucrats that he won’t tolerate criminality or favoritism.
But many analysts have questioned whether he will go beyond window-dressing.
”The problem of anti-corruption campaigns is that unless you start at the top, there’s no point,” Margo Light, a Russia expert at the London School of Economics, said Monday.
Putin granted Yeltsin immunity from prosecution on Friday, almost immediately after the aged president resigned unexpectedly and named him acting president. However, while the decree protected Yeltsin and made it impossible to subpoena his papers, the immunity did not extend to his family.
Neither the substance of Dyachenko’s job nor the extent of her influence were ever clear. Regardless, it was a position that gave the former computer engineer a Kremlin office, access to her father in an official capacity and a great deal of behind-the-scenes influence.
She shied away from public attention, but Russian media persistently linked her to several powerful businessmen who have allegedly used their wealth and media holdings to try to manipulate government policy and acquire privatized state assets through sweetheart deals.
Yeltsin’s erratic moves – especially his abrupt firing of four successive prime ministers – often provoked speculation that his daughter and her allies were pulling strings.
Most recently, Dyachenko has been at the center of a probe into allegations of massive kickbacks that plagued the Kremlin during Yeltsin’s last year in office.
Swiss and Russian prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Dyachenko and her sister Yelena Okulova, as well as other Kremlin officials, took bribes from a Swiss company, Mabetex, that won lucrative Kremlin construction contracts.
Up to $1 million allegedly went to Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, who oversaw the renovation work, and was made available to Yeltsin and his family, according to some press reports.
Swiss prosecutors have focused on allegations that Yeltsin and his daughters were provided with credit cards funded by Mabetex and that hundreds of thousands of dollars were allegedly charged to them. Mabetex, Yeltsin and his family have consistently denied the allegations and nobody has been charged.
In October the Swiss Banca del Gottardo confirmed that it provided guarantees credit cards for Yeltsin and his two daughters on instructions from Mabetex. The bank stressed that it did not provide actual credit cards and that the guarantee – which would come into force if bills went unpaid – was never invoked.
Swiss authorities were also reportedly monitoring a bank account opened by a Svetlana Dyachenko, which they suspected was actually set up for Tatyana.
Though the corruption allegations against Yeltsin and his administration have been swirling for months, nobody has been charged with any wrongdoing.
Putin removed three other officials from their Kremlin posts on Monday: presidential spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin, protocol chief Vladimir Shevchenko, and presidential office chief Valery Semyonchenko. However, Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin then appointed Yakushkin as one of his deputies.
Yakushkin told Echo of Moscow radio on Monday that Yeltsin would maintain an office in the Kremlin, and that he would continue meeting with officials on an informal basis.
On Monday, the White House reaffirmed its support for democratic and market reform in Russia. ”This is an important time,” spokesman Joe Lockhart said, referring the presidential elections due in three months. ”But the Russian people will have to speak.”
President Clinton, who was in Shepherdstown, W. Va., to mediate between Israel and Syria, called Putin from the White House on Saturday.
”I think the president congratulated him on his designation as acting president,” but noted there were areas of disagreement, including the war in Chechnya, Lockhart said. Putin has promoted the Russian military offensive in Chechnya, a drive that has widespread popular support. He is expected to try to capitalize on the campaign in his presidential run.