PRESIDENT Yeltsin's shock decision to sack his entire Government was taken after close consultations with a group of shadowy Kremlin insiders,PRESIDENT Yeltsin's shock decision to sack his entire Government was taken after close consultations with a group of shadowy Kremlin insiders,
These included his daughter, a billionaire and his ghost writer.
As details of Monday's `bloodless coup' began to surface, it emerged that the Government may have been surprised by its dismissal, but the decision was not simply President Yeltsin acting on impulse. An influential cabal played a decisive role in preparing the removal of Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former Prime Minister, and his deputy, Anatoli Chubais.
According to official sources, analysts and some Russian newspapers, the decision had been carefully planned with the involvement of Tatyana Dyachenko, the President's daughter and confidante, Valentin Yumashev, head of the Kremlin administration and ghost writer of Mr Yeltsin's two books, and Boris Berezovsky, a business tycoon and veteran Kremlin intriguer.
Mrs Dyachenko's influence on Kremlin decision-making is hard to underestimate. She entered politics two years ago to help her father's re-election campaign and has become one of his closest aides, particularly during his long spells of illness. During the present political upheaval, a friend described her as being in the thick of it, even though the publicity-shy mother of two has made no public comments.
Mr Yumashev, a former journalist, helped the Russian leader to write his two volumes of memoirs and was promoted to the head of the Kremlin administration last year. According to one analyst, he has since become `the son that Yeltsin never had' and has been at the President's side throughout the present crisis.
The third and most controversial player in the troika is Mr Berezovsky, a businessman who is estimated to be worth about £2 billion, who is heavily identified with the `crony capitalism' that emerged in Russia after the collapse of communism.
Mr Berezovsky, who controls a large slice of the Russian oil, media and airline industries, has been at odds with Mr Chubais since last summer over a failed privatisation bid for a telecommunications company and a similar dispute with Mr Chernomyrdin this year over an oil company.
In an interview published on Friday he predicted that Mr Chubais had only ``days left in government'', even though the Russian leader had promised to keep Mr Chubais in the Cabinet until 2000. On Sunday, Mr Berezovsky returned and spoke of the need for ``new faces in the Government'' only hours before Mr Yeltsin dropped his bombshell, dismissing 29 ministers.
The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets said: ``The next day Yeltsin seemed just a man fulfilling all that Boris Abramovich Berezovsky told him the night before.'' The headline was: `What sort of devil led Yeltsin astray?'
Yesterday the Kremlin was adamant that Mr Berezovsky's remarks and his return to public life were simply coincidences and rejected suggestions that he had once again been shaping Kremlin policy.
But few doubt that Mr Berezovsky was involved in the sackings and is now lobbying furiously to ensure that the next government is stacked in his favour and that the Prime Minister is an ally.
One idea, reported in a newspaper Mr Berezovsky controls, suggested yesterday that he may seek a Cabinet position himself. Officials also said that he was pressing for the appointment of Ivan Rybkin, a former Deputy Prime Minister, whom Mr Berezovsky once served on the Kremlin's Security Council.
Nevertheless, Mr Berezovsky's influence has its limits and destroying the old Government may be easier than forming a new one, particularly when every interest group in Russia is lobbying the Kremlin for its candidate to become Prime Minister
(* The Times London)