Yeltsin’s Family

1999 > Russia

He’s no trick Bear

Obshchaya Gazeta22-28 July 1999

The Big Kremlin Family: Anatomy and Physiology of the Yeltsin Family

By Yelena Dikun:

In Russia, few people do not know that the Yeltsin Family rules our country.
According to popular tradition, this is the highest institution of power–higher
than the President himself.

Some people are convinced: The Family leads the President around like a dog.
They lead him around not according to the law. They lead him around contrary
to the law. The formal competence of this “institution” is insignificant.
However, they lead him around in accordance with the grace of a legitimate
ruler. Like any unnatural phenomenon, the Family was soon surrounded by myths.
All the more so since the Family members make no effort to separate truth
from fiction and to demystify themselves, their functions, and the limits
and character of their political influence.

Obschaya Gazeta has collected some knowledge which it has decided to share
with its readers from employees of the President’s Administration. This knowledge
was obtained by private consultations, without the right to refer to them.
But the honesty of the consultants is beyond suspicion.

Children, Step Children, and Cousins

The Family does not mean “the members of Boris Yeltsin’s household”. Among
the people of the President’s household, the following persons belong to
this association without any reservations. They are Yeltsin’s younger daughter
Tatyana Dyachenko, who holds the post of image consultant to her father,
and his wife Naina Iosifovna with some reservations.

All the other persons come from different clans. Often they hold no office
and are united only by one thing. The President considers their opinions
to be useful.

As in any other family, an interior hierarchy exists in this association.
“Favorite children” and “distant relatives” exist here. This does not depend
on kinship, and not on official position, but on the degree of influence
on the life of the Family. Thus Naina Iosifovna, whom the Kremlin apparatus
would call “a woman in mourning,” is a rather distant relative. Her participation
in politics consists in the following facts. She views all the TV programs
and reads the newspapers, and is terribly upset if somebody criticizes her
husband severely. In a panic, she phones her daughter an asks her “to do
something”. It is not compulsory to fulfill Naina Iosifovna’s instructions,
but every member of the Family must please her.

Tatyana Borisovna has quite a different standing. In her father’s absence,
she is the undisputed master of the Kremlin household. Properly speaking,
it is she who maintains the integrity and functional capability of this
variegated grouping. During the “regency” of Korzhakov, the favorites of
Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin waged a continuous struggle for access to him.
However, with the arrival of Mrs. Dyachenko, discipline has prevailed in
the servants’ room. The males agreed that it would be better for them if
a woman ruled them. Any member of the family sees it as necessary to inform
“Tanya” of his plans. “Why should we throw the lady away, when we have ourselves
elected her to be our boss?” Theoretically, somebody could evade Mrs. Dyachenko,
but his days would be numbered.

The story is still fresh in their memory of the time when Nikolay Bordyuzha,
the Presidential Administration chief, shouted out in a fit of temper: “A
woman will never order me about like that!” They liberated Nikolay Nikolayevich
Bordyuzha from that inconvenience very soon. Valentin Yumashev, a volunteer
presidential adviser, is considered as Yeltsin’s “stepson” in the Family.
This is the second most significant “post” in the family structure.

Only “Tanya and Valya” have direct access to the President round the clock.
Yumashev is said to be well aware of the mood of the boss, and he has a
tranquilizing effect on him. Yeltsin’s most recent favorite is Aleksandr
Voloshin, his present administration chief. According to informed people,
Yeltsin distinguishes Voloshin as his most developed associate in terms of
intellectual development.

It is also important that Mrs. Dyachenko and Yumashev highly appreciate Voloshin.
Today, “Tanya, Valya, and Sasha” form the core of the Family. It is on them
that the position and degree of influence of the other members who are “relatives
in the second generation” of this “cell of society” depend. Among them, Boris
Berezovskiy is by rights considered an “old-timer”.

He was pushed aside from the first rank after a quarrel with Valeriy Okulov,
the President’s eldest son-in-law, because of the money from the Aeroflot
company. During the veteran’s disgrace, the veteran oligarch has been
considerably pressed Roman Abramovich, who is sometimes called “Valya’s buddy”
and sometimes called a “protege of Berezovskiy”.

Roman’s career is impetuous. Administration employees at first considered
him to be a “boy for minor services”. They were discouraged when they began
to find him in Mrs. Tatyana Dyachenko’s office sprawling like a master in
her armchair and using the Kremlin’s private telephone lines.

The consultants of Obschaya Gazeta unanimously mention Vladimir Putin, secretary
of the Security Council, among the newly acquired “relatives”. He is a “stubborn,
unflinching man, who is faithful to the team”. Putin has occupied the niche
of “man from the armed forces”. This post had been vacant since Korzhakov’s

Anatoliy Chubays also remains in the Family. He is invited to the family
council episodically, but at the most critical moments, when there is nobody
there to stop Yeltsin. For instance, this happened, when the President had
firmly decided to move Aksenenko to the post of prime minister. Anatoliy
Borisovich Chubays is one of the few persons who can speak to the head of
state in the language of a simple party official who is not infected with
the plague of wise “political science”.

Chubays can break through to the President avoiding “Tanya and Valya”, but
he does not abuse this right. Dmitriy Yakushin, the presidential press secretary,
is considered the most distant relative, to whom the Family has given shelter
with the right of a “cousin from the remote town of Zhitomir”. “Dmitriy
Dmitriyevich Yakushin adores Tanya and Valya. He supports them in everything.
In addition, he is harmless to all the others”–this is how his benevolent
colleagues explain his successful career.

Despite the widespread legend that included Nikolay Aksenenko among the members
of the Family, the Premier did not belong to this honored team for even one
day. We quote an administration employee: “Boris Nikolayevich was the stimulus
to this personality. He is impressed by the stateliness and the railway man’s
worker mettle. But that is not enough to be accepted here as a man of our

Pavel Borodin, for many years the President’s assistant manager, also stands
apart here. “Pavel Pavlovich Borodin is too dangerous for the Family. He
has too much money and information. He obeys only the boss.”

An attempt to introduce the Premier into the Family circle belongs to the
last staff innovations of the Family. Formerly this was considered impossible.
The Family behaved as a parallel, alternative government. However, they made
an exception for Sergey Stepashin. Recently, usually once a week, assizes
are held in the Prime Minister’s office with the participation of Voloshin,
Mrs. Dyachenko, Chubays, and Putin.

Division of Labor

According to the trusted persons of Obschaya Gazeta, the Family is functioning
in a rather confused way, without any precise regulations. However, a certain
distribution of roles does exist. As already stated, Mrs. Tatyana Dyachenko
fulfills the duties of coordinator. The administration employees highlight
Mrs. Dyachenko’s cold mind and calm nature.

Mrs. Tatyana Borisovna Dyachenko never speaks at meetings. She listens to
the speakers silently. If somebody asks for her advice, she refers the curious
person to the administration chief. But if the curious person goes to the
indicated address, Mrs. Dyachenko is bound to drop in to Mr. Voloshin in
order to clear up what they discussed in her absence.

We cannot say that the President makes all the decisions as submitted by
his daughter. However, nobody can remember a time when the President made
a decision that Mrs. Tatyana Borisovna Dyachenko had opposed. His youngest
daughter reliably fulfills the role of a filter that stops everything that
in her view could harm her father. Valentin Yumashev specializes in separations.
He is indispensable in bringing useful people together causing an alliance
that is taking shape to collapse, or building up a system of “mutual
destruction”. At the same time, Yumashev is responsible for the connections
with the oligarchs and the heads of the TV channels. It is true that after
introducing his friend Voloshin into the Family, Yumashin has recently begun
to neglect his duties in the Family. He goes abroad for long periods of time.
Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to find him even by satellite communication

Chubays, Voloshin, and Berezovskiy are the Family’s political strategists
and the generators of ideas. Usually, each of them suggests his own plan
of action. The agenda for a Family discussion is made up by them. All three
of them show a remarkable tendency toward adventurous scenarios. They are
extraordinarily close to the President in this regard. However, Mrs. Dyachenko
and Mr. Yumashev dread stressing their ailing patron too much. They skillfully
mete out their outbursts of energy and divert it to a safe course. In principle,
Roman Abramovich “sits at the cash register”, serving the Family’s financial
interests. Incidentally, nothing definite is known about this.

Family Relationships

There was a time, eighteen months to two years ago, when a spirit of mutual
love reigned in the Family. The “relatives” kept together as inseparable
company. Only in the sauna were they not all together. Now the times have
changed. They do not meet all together. They have separated into groups of
two and three. After a number of conflicts, diverging interests have appeared,
and some group members are even on antagonistic terms with one another. For
instance, it is difficult to make Chubays sit down at the same table as
Berezovskiy or Abramovich.

Therefore, it has become necessary to ensure unity of action by means of
the mediation contacts of Chubays with Voloshin, Voloshin with Berezovskiy,
etc. The administration chief is also obliged to mediate in the relationships
of Yumashev with Berezovskiy, if what is advantageous to “Valya” does not
suit Boris Abramovich, and vice versa. Then, the present and past administration
chiefs come to an agreement. They play the role of “good cop, bad cop”. Voloshin
is demonstratively obstinate and refuses to respect Berezovskiy’s requests.
Yumashev, however, showers compliments. “You know, I am always ready, but
as you see yourself, Voloshin will not budge a bit.” The next time around,
the actors change roles. Thus they throw Boris Abramovich from one office
to another, until they finally postpone the issue.

Sometimes, the “separating people” have a tough time. For instance, this
happened when the interests of Berezovskiy and Abramovich clashed with each
other. Valentin Borisovich then played into Roman’s hands and opposed the
fusion of YUKOS and Sibneft. Boris Abramovich became very angry with Valentin
Borisovich and did not speak to him for about three weeks.

According to the opinion of our interlocutors, the only thing that unites
the members of the Family today is fear for their lives and for their business
after the changing of the master in the Kremlin. They understand that it
will be more difficult for them to safeguard their future separately. For
instance, it is allowed to settle some minor issues individually, such as
obtaining a second- rate portfolio for “their man”. Then the strategy of
the Family’s safety is elaborated and approved by all of them. There was
no unanimity in the Family with regard to Chernomyrdin’s resignation. Not
all of them liked Kiriyenko. However, the Family did not tolerate any pluralism
in regard to Primakov and Skuratov and obtained a complete consolidation
of opinions and activities.

Daddy Will Rule as He Can

The question of the limits of the Family’s influence is one of those that
are most essential. Is the weakened President really a weak-willed toy in
the hands of his close associates? Does he really “reign, but not rule”?
For well-known reasons, the Kremlin officials do not like “Grandpa’s kinsfolk”
too much. However, nobody has any doubt that Boris Yeltsin continues to be
the head of the Family. The average weighted opinion on this subject is as

“Owing to his advanced age and his illnesses, Yeltsin’s immunity to external
influence has weakened, of course. On the opposite side, you cannot control
him.” Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish which decision matured in
the President’s mind and which the Family brought about. However, it is
impossible to make any decisions against Yeltsin’s will.

The Family’s influence is minimal on international affairs and on the bloc
of departments connected with the armed forces. On these issues, the President
prefers to deliberate with specialists, and not with “Tanya and Valya”. It
is another matter that Yeltsin neglected part of his obligations also in
better years. His close associates had no need to usurp these obligations.

The President himself was glad to shove aside these obligations onto some
trusted personality. Above all, these are issues of the economy, which are
by tradition obscure and boring to him.

In this sphere, the influence of the Family is very great and perhaps only
commensurable with the influence of the Cabinet of Ministers. For Yeltsin,
to rule means to appoint and dismiss officials. This is the only one of the
presidential prerogatives which he can evaluate an attempt against as someone
trying to appropriate his power. But he does not tolerate any of this. The
Family is able only to accelerate a resignation or delay an appointment.

Undoubtedly, “Tanya and Valya” could not show the suspicious Russian President
a video recording of Viktor Chernomyrdin and Albert Gore’s Washington press
conference. Then Chernomyrdin would have continued in the office of prime
minister. It was possible not to show Yeltsin the TV dialogue of Rem Vyakhirev
with Aleksandr Livshits. This would not have brought down trouble on Livshits.
It was not a must to tell the President about the general prosecutor’s
amusements… However, in such a case, the Family would have risked running
up against accusations of an information blockade against the head of state.

Generally speaking, knowledgeable persons find it difficult to evaluate the
character of the “influence of the Family” on the President. On the one hand,
it is understandable that the Family is an illegitimate formation, and therefore
harmful owing to the very fact of its very existence. However, on the other
hand, you must know Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin. He is mentally unable to
share power with anybody who does not stand under his control. This may be
the parliament, the government, or the Constitutional Court.

Therefore he is forced to entrust part of his unbearable authorities to
personally chosen favorites. The “Family” is a relatively new word, but not
a completely new phenomenon. Before that, it was called a “collective Rasputin”,
a “collective Yeltsin,” and was personified by the names of Burbulis, Poltoranin,
Korzhakov, Ilyushin, and Barsukov.

The essence is not changed by exchanging the persons and names. The Family
is an organic supplement to an authoritarian but functionally weak leader.
It is a phenomenon of a disintegrating state system.

Whether the role of this body is negative or positive also depends on the
evaluation of the leader’s personality. Many of our informants think that
in some situations, the Family exerts a positive influence. It restrains
the impetuous President and reduces the political risks to a minimum. “Boris
Nikolayevich Yeltsin is an unrestrained character. If you leave him face
to face with society, he will pile up so many things that you could not sort
them out even in a hundred years.” One of the President’s collaborators of
many years said this sincerely. If it were not for the Family, the following
things would have happened. He would have returned the Kuril Islands to the
Japanese long ago. He would have aimed nuclear warheads at the NATO countries.
He would have appointed General Nikolayev instead of Chernomyrdin, and would
have replaced Primakov with the railwayman Aksenenko.

People remember as a nightmare the days in February when the head of state
ordered “to close down” the Communist Party immediately. Then the Family
forgot all its internal disputes, worked in crisis conditions, and by a miracle
prevented the risky edict from being issued.

Briefly speaking, the eternal suspicion about the good tsar and the wicked
princes does not have sufficient foundation. Like master, like man.