Tycoon Turmoil Touches Kremlin

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MOSCOW: The Kremlin may not yet be for sale, but it certainly appears to be up for rent. And the scramble to buy influence inside there claimed another casualty Wednesday when Boris Yeltsin dismissed Boris Berezovsky, one of the country's most powerful men, amidst a power struggle with Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais and other members of Yeltsin’s government.

Berezovsky is a former mathematician who today is ranked by Forbes magazine as the world’s 97th richest individual and has long held a shadowy influence on the Yeltsin government. While the given reason — that Berezovsky’s business interests conflict with his senior government position — may appear plausible enough, there are deeper conflicts at work.

Berezovsky is one of seven tycoons who between them control as much as half of Russia’s economy. Last summer, their harmonious coexistence was shattered when upstart banker Vladimir Potanin (with a loan from George Soros) scooped up a giant government-owned investment firm, upstaging a key Berezovsky ally. In months of political intrigue that followed, Chubais stepped in to back Potanin, and now appears to have persuaded Yeltsin to fire a man who is alleged to have contributed as much as $30 million to the president’s re-election campaign.

Chubais and his allies claim to be out to put an end to the “rule of the seven bankers” — a popular quest. Cynics counter that this might simply mean that the new bankers waiting in the wings are growing impatient.