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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 16:22 GMT
Kremlin 'coup' forces key Putin choice

By Nikolai Gorshkov
BBC Moscow correspondent

"Coup" may be a strong word but that's how some Russian commentators describe the widely-rumoured resignation of the Kremlin's powerful chief-of-staff.

Alexander Voloshin, Kremlin chief of staff
Voloshin is seen as "eminence grise" behind Putin
If the split at the top over the treatment of the country's business elite is true, they say, it signals the end of liberalism in Russia and the birth of a much tougher regime.

Russian media reports say the chief-of-staff, Alexander Voloshin, tendered his resignation over the arrest of Russia's richest businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

There has been no official confirmation, but commentators citing several reliable Kremlin sources say it has been accepted by President Vladimir Putin.

Now they are wondering who will replace the man widely believed to be the "eminence grise" behind President Putin, who largely defined the direction Russia has been taking.

Dual role

Mr Voloshin is believed to have been the architect of the transition of power from the frail first Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, to Mr Putin.

But he was also seen as the new president's minder, ensuring the continuity of Mr Yeltsin's reforms, and the interests of the political and business elite which has sprung to life under Mr Yeltsin.

However, many of its powerful players have since been sidelined in the ensuing feud - among them tycoon Boris Berezovsky, exiled to London.

Mr Putin's choice of Mr Voloshin's successor is limited: it's either somebody from Mr Voloshin's circle, or another ex-KGB officer.
Mr Voloshin is believed to have been behind this purge, as well as behind the taming of private TV channels critical of the new president.

Ostensibly, all this was done to bring much-needed stability to the country, eager to attract serious foreign investment.

The spin-off was the rise to power of President Putin's ex-KGB associates, not known for their democratic credentials.

However, Mr Voloshin, for all he has done, was still seen as someone with fairly strong liberal instincts that stopped him from crossing the line between law and order, and police state.

Mr Putin's choice of Mr Voloshin's successor is limited: it's either somebody from Mr Voloshin's circle, or another ex-KGB officer.

This may well be the most important choice of Mr Putin's presidency.

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