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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 15:50 GMT
Profile: Ivan Rybkin
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News Online

The publicity generated by his mysterious disappearance has put Ivan Rybkin back in the spotlight after years of relative obscurity.

He may have registered to stand in the 2004 presidential election but opinion polls were giving him a rating of barely 1% against Vladimir Putin's 70% when he was reported missing.

Ivan Rybkin
Mr Rybkin was mocked for his gentle manner while in office

However, if few Russians would vote for him, it is hardly because they have not heard of him: in the Yeltsin years, his face was one of the most familiar on television whether he was chairing the State Duma or the Security Council.

A former teacher, he began his political career in the Soviet Communist Party in the southern city of Volgograd.

As a deputy for the Agrarian Party, the Communists' rural allies, he entered the new Russian parliament, the Duma, in 1993.

His left-wing credentials helped him to be elected speaker, but he quickly became an establishment figure and an ally of then president Boris Yeltsin.

Having lost his place in the Russian hierarchy under President Putin, the mild-mannered Mr Rybkin recently began something of a comeback in opposition, with the backing of fugitive tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

He became leader of the loyalist faction in Mr Berezovsky's party, Liberal Russia, after it split last year.

The party's rival leader, Sergei Yushenkov, was later shot dead near his home in Moscow in a murder which has only now gone to trial.

'Peaceful and bureaucratic'

In November, Mr Rybkin made headlines when he appeared in London - Mr Berezovsky's chosen new residence - to condemn President Putin's policies in Chechnya.

Appearing alongside Akhmed Zakayev after the Chechen rebel figure had won his battle against extradition to Russia, Mr Rybkin accused Russia's leaders of "trying to treat all their political opponents as criminals".

Just days before his disappearance, he took out a full-page advertisement in Kommersant - a Russian newspaper owned by Mr Berezovsky - which described Mr Putin as Russia's "biggest oligarch" and said he had "no right to power".

The late Alexander Lebed, who was famously sacked as Security Council secretary by Boris Yeltsin in 1996 in a clash of personalities and replaced by Mr Rybkin, predicted at the time that the Rybkin Security Council would "turn into a peaceful bureaucratic office of which no one will hear and no one will know".

Since those heady days when Russia's president could never count on a one-horse race at election time, Ivan Rybkin - whose surname is reminiscent of the Russian word for "little fish" - may just have found a political voice.

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