When Russia's Hard-Liners Speak, Yeltsin Listens

In the aftermath of Chechnya war, reformers find they get little respect

THE banks of white telephones on Mark Urnov's desk peg him as a man of rank in the status-conscious world of Rus-sian officialdom. But in the course of a two-hour interview last Friday, not one of them rang -- even once.

Mr. Urnov is head of the Russian Presidential Analytical Center, the reformist think tank that has largely set Boris Yeltsin's agenda. But he acknowledges that now he is out of the loop.

Since the Chechnya crisis began to brew five months ago, Mr. Yeltsin has leaned more and more heavily on hard-line aides recommending forceful action and paid less and less attention to advocates of political solutions.

''Our materials compete with those of other groups,'' says Urnov obliquely, ''and the choice has not been in our favor.''

A few doors down the corridor, in an office with a panoramic view of the steepled and domed Kremlin skyline, one of the government's top experts on ethnic questions, Emil Pain, is blunt about his frustration.

''Since the beginning of September, I have not been asked once about my ideas on Chechnya,'' complains Mr. Pain, a strong opponent of military intervention in the rebel republic.

''I have sent proposals to the highest levels of government four times anyway,'' Pain says, ''but they have come back with the same comment on the bottom: 'Think of other variants.' ''

In the meantime, shadowy advisory bodies, working secretly, appear to have won the president's ear. Rumors abound especially about the role of Gen. Alexander Korzhakov, head of Yeltsin's Presidential Security Service.

General Korzhakov -- Yeltsin's KGB bodyguard when Yeltsin was named a member of the ruling Soviet Politburo in 1987 -- is the Russian leader's closest and most loyal confidant, according to Yeltsin's own memoirs.

But Korzhakov's interests appear to stretch beyond the physical safety of his boss. Last month he dispatched a memo to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin questioning the government's intention to liberalize oil exports, a key Western demand.

And last week the liberal daily Izvestia reported that Korzhakov's organization includes a political think tank that recommends policy to Kremlin leaders.

That security agencies employ researchers would not in itself be worrying, Pain says, except that ''the problem is the extent to which the secret services affect political decisionmaking. Do they limit themselves to their field of expertise, or do they overstep those limits?''

At the same time, as perhaps is natural in time of conflict, the institutions that have planned and executed the war in Chechnya -- primarily the Army, the Interior Ministry, and the KGB's successor, the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service -- have made their voices the most clearly heard.

And the Security Council, a 14-member body named by Yeltsin and responsible only to him, has enjoyed growing influence under the leadership of Oleg Lobov, an old Communist Party crony of the president's and a strong supporter of the war.

On the other hand, Yeltsin's traditional alliance with democratic political parties and the free press is in tatters as a result of the government's Chechnya policy.

But the trend is not all one way, and in recent days the president's liberal supporters have begun fighting back. Sergei Filatov, for example, head of the presidential administration, publicly rebuked Defense Minister Pavel Grachev for branding a leading human rights campaigner and war-protester ''a sleazebag.''

Other small signs suggest that the pendulum may already be swinging in the reformists' favor:

*Nikolai Yegorov, a deputy prime minister who played a key role in coordinating the Chechnya campaign was fired on Friday.

*Oleg Soskovets, another deputy prime minister deeply implicated in the war has kept an unusually low profile in the past two weeks.

*Sergei Baturin, Yeltsin's liberal adviser on national security, who was barred from Security Council meetings for more than a month, was invited back last week.

*The top privatization official, Vladmir Polevanov, was sacked last week after casting doubt on the privatization program's future.

As Yeltsin juggles his men, liberal advisers who still see him as Russia's best hope for democratic and economic reform say they are hopeful.

''The Chechen war, beside its many tragedies, has had some positive aspects,'' Pain says. ''One is that the war has dramatically increased society's hunger for stable and responsible government. Today, ultraradical groups on both the left and the right have lost their appeal.''

''I am much more optimistic than I was a month ago,'' Urnov says, as he waits for his telephones to ring, ''just because of the results of the operation in Chechnya. As the consequences of purely military action become clear, I suspect that our research materials will become more competitive.''

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