Mon, Oct 23, 2000 EDT
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Russian Tycoon Tapped to Strengthen Commonwealth

Misha Japaridze/AP
Berezovsky's fortune is estimated at $3 billion

MOSCOW (AP) — Searching for ways to strengthen an unruly alliance, 12 former Soviet republics named a powerful Russian business tycoon as their group's executive secretary Wednesday.

Boris Berezovsky, a billionaire who has been linked to a series of political intrigues in Russia, was unanimously approved by the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Commonwealth has been largely ineffective since its creation following the Soviet breakup, serving mostly as a talking shop. Berezovsky's appointment will, if nothing else, give the organization a much higher profile.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who fired Berezovsky from Russia's Security Council in November, was reappointed chairman of the Commonwealth, a largely ceremonial post.

The Russian leader said he was happy to be working with Berezovsky again.

"He's a lively person," Yeltsin said. "I ousted him, but that does not embarrass me."

"Many people will blow up" when they learn of Berezovsky's new post, Yeltsin said. But, he added, "it's for the sake of work."

Berezovsky's critics say he epitomizes the modern Russian business mogul — having relied on close Kremlin contacts to help build a fortune estimated at $3 billion.

The critics question why a billionaire businessman seems so determined to work as a bureaucrat — claiming it's to advance his business interests.

Berezovsky succeeds Belarus' Ivan Korotchenya, who held the job since the CIS was created after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Summit participants were concentrating Wednesday on finding ways to make their partnership work, but did not reach any agreements.

Afterward, Kazakstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the talks were "absolutely empty."

Yeltsin had asked all the leaders to present proposals on how to reform the alliance, which unites all former Soviet republics except the three Baltic nations.

One reason the CIS has not been effective is that many of the countries are reluctant to surrender their independence to an organization they believe will be dominated by Russia.

Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov warned Moscow on the eve of the summit that it should not attempt to rebuild the Soviet empire under the guise of the CIS.

The summit had been postponed twice this year, once because Yeltsin was ill and the second time because of his recent government shakeup in Russia.

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