Russian tycoon wages war of words with government

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MOSCOW — A Russian politician and business tycoon has played the Jewish card in an escalating war of words with one of President Boris Yeltsin's top advisers.

In a personal attack on First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Boris Berezovsky said that the 37-year-old — widely considered Yeltsin's heir apparent — could never become president because of his Jewish heritage.

Berezovsky is himself Jewish. It was the latest salvo in Berezovsky's war of words with the government over last month's controversial sell-off of a telecommunications conglomerate.

Drawing a distinction between his and Nemtsov's Jewish-sounding names and Yeltsin's Russian-sounding name, Berezovsky said, "You don't become a president, presidents are born." In his recently published memoirs, Nemtsov wrote that he converted to Orthodox Christianity a few years ago.

Berezovsky said Nemtsov and his fellow first deputy prime minister, Anatoly Chubais, were erring by breaking with the financial elite that bankrolled President Boris Yeltsin's re-election last year.

Nemtsov and Chubais hailed the recent $1.9 billion sale of the telecommunications conglomerate, Svyazinvest, as an end to the sweetheart deals of the past, when banks close to the Kremlin bought state enterprises at discount prices. But the losing consortium, in which Berezovsky is reported to have had a stake, cried foul. It alleged that Nemtsov had colluded with the group that made the purchase.