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The Sunday Times (UK)
December 2, 2001
Putin turns on Yeltsin old guard

ONE of the closest advisers to Boris Yeltsin, the former Russian president, has accused Vladimir Putin, his successor, of turning the country into a police state where the security services persecute the regime’s political opponents.

Valentin Yumashev, 43, who recently married Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, 41, served as the head of the former president’s administration for several years and ghost-wrote his two autobiographies. The couple helped to secure Putin’s rise to power, acting as his advisers and running the election campaign that confirmed him in office last year.

Last week, however, Yumashev summoned some of Russia’s most influential newspaper editors to a private meeting at an exclusive Moscow restaurant, where he denounced Putin’s authoritarianism.

He warned darkly of a “persecution campaign in the spirit of the 1930s” and urged the press to expose the growing power that Putin, a former KGB officer, has given to the security services.

“Yumashev complained that increasingly, the people around Putin are from the former KGB and that they are becoming more and more aggressive, putting pressure on people, bugging them, just looking for an excuse to lock them up,” said one source.

“These are the people who made Putin. Having put him in power, Yeltsin’s camp is now beginning to feel very uncomfortable with its creature.”

The criticism coincided with moves by Putin to oust, and in some cases to prosecute, several of Yeltsin’s former associates. In a challenge to The Family — as the group of friends and advisers around Yeltsin used to be known — prosecutors recently announced they were filing charges against Nikolai Aksyonenko, the railways minister. He has been questioned about siphoning off £1.6m in state funds. Officially on holiday and not permitted to leave Moscow, he denies any wrongdoing, claiming prosecutors are playing political games.

Mikhail Lesin, the media minister, also unexpectedly went on holiday last month after auditors began looking into his ministry’s affairs, apparently at Putin’s instigation.

On his first day as acting president, Putin signed a decree guaranteeing Yeltsin immunity from prosecution. The move followed several corruption scandals in which questions had been raised about both Yeltsin and Dyachenko, the second most influential person in Russian politics while her father was in power.

Analysts said Putin was highly unlikely ever to break his agreement with Yeltsin. But a source who attended the meeting said: “There is no doubt about it. The Yeltsin camp is beginning to feel the heat.”

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