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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 04:12 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Crisis brews over sex video

Skuratov: Many angered by his investigations

By BBC Russian affairs specialist Malcolm Haslett

A new scandal, with very far-reaching implications, has hit Moscow. The senior crime prevention officer, Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, who last month offered his resignation, on Wednesday received a vote of confidence from the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.

But no sooner had that happened when a government-controlled TV channel showed a video allegedly showing Mr Skuratov in bed with two prostitutes. Who's gunning for Skuratov and who's supporting him?

Talk of a crisis

[ image: Yeltsin: Supported Skuratov's resignation]
Yeltsin: Supported Skuratov's resignation
The upper house, the Federation Council, is normally a loyal ally of President Yeltsin. So Wednesday's overwhelming vote to reject his offer of resignation was a significant act of defiance. Mr Yeltsin had previously urged it to accept Skuratov's resignation. Political commentators in Moscow are now talking of a major new constitutional crisis.

In a sense the fate of Yuri Skuratov himself is of secondary importance. He had antagonised a lot of influential people in recent months by ordering investigations into a series of institutions, ranging from the Central Bank to major businesses, notably those of the controversial financier Boris Berezovsky.

Suspicions over resignation

[ image: Berezovsky: Under investigation]
Berezovsky: Under investigation
So when Mr Skuratov surprisingly offered to resign last month, allegedly on grounds of ill health, everyone found it suspicious. But President Yeltsin immediately accepted the offer and urged parliament to endorse it. Many saw this as evidence that Mr Yeltsin had given in to pressure from those, including Berezovsky, threatened with investigation.

And the Federation Council, apparently keen to show it does have some independence from Yeltsin, has in effect endorsed these suspicions and asked Mr Skuratov to stay on in his post.

The showing of what purported to be a compromising video of Mr Skuratov on the state-run RTR television channel has further complicated the story. Mr Skuratov himself has dismissed the video as an attempt at 'blackmail'. His supporters in the Duma have tended to dismiss it as a 'personal matter'.

Only the far-right Liberal Democrats of Vladimir Zhirinovsky have expressed shock at what it showed and called for Mr Skuratov's removal.

The main question now is: who will be damaged most by the scandal, and who may gain most? Mr Skuratov may well lose his job.

'Yeltsin could lose'

[ image: Primakov: No need for a confrontation with parliament]
Primakov: No need for a confrontation with parliament
But some Russian papers think the main loser could be President Yeltsin himself. Some people will associate him with the showing of the video and with an underhand attempt at discrediting a prosecutor general who, they argue, was only trying to expose corruption. The president's supporters will argue, in reply, that Mr Skuratov's investigations were all part of an attempt at destabilising the current administration.

A lot will depend in coming days on what role the Prime Minister, Yevgeni Primakov, decides to play. He has so far associated himself with President Yeltsin's position, but he has absolutely no interest in a confrontation with parliament, which has generally supported him in the past. Nor has he any interest in protecting people like Mr Berezovsky, a long-standing personal rival.

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