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Russian leaders' kids add color


American presidents (and presidential candidates) come with families. Beaming wives and well-scrubbed children are a feature of every campaign. Laura Bush spoke up for her husband at the Republican convention, and Tipper Gore got a famous kiss from hers.

At least since Eleanor Roosevelt, American political family members have been visible personalities. When a critic panned Margaret Truman's singing, father Harry threatened to punch him in the nose.

What a contrast to Russia, where the families of leaders are rarely seen and almost never heard.

Or is it? In fact, the offspring of Russian leaders often cut larger figures than their American counterparts. Americans of a certain age remember Tricia Nixon's wedding or Amy Carter reading a book during state dinners, but few of us have kept track of them since they left the White House. What Russian, on the other hand, could forget Galina Brezhnev and her mink-booted lover Boris the Gypsy?

Most of the principal Soviet and Russian leaders had family members who made waves. And the niece of the first, Vladimir Lenin, stirred up the latest controversy.

After Lenin died in 1924, his remains were embalmed and put on display in a red granite mausoleum in Red Square. In the new, post-Communist Russia, there are periodic suggestions that the body be removed and reburied. When that happens Olga Ulyanova, 78, springs into action.

The nearest relative of the childless Lenin, Ulyanova lived in the Kremlin with the children of Josef Stalin and other leaders until 1949. A retired chemistry professor and still a convinced Communist, she lives on a small pension a short subway ride from her uncle's tomb. Over the years she stood in blocks-long lines several times a year to visit it.

And she continues to organize letter-writing campaigns to denounce the idea of reburying Lenin. You can't rewrite history, she says: "Lenin is the history of the creation of the socialist state."

No bed of roses

One of Ulyanova's childhood playmates was Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Josef Stalin. When she was a girl a popular perfume was marketed as "Svetlana's Breath," but her life has not been a bed of roses.

In 1967, when she was 41, Alliluyeva provoked worldwide headlines by defecting to the United States. She married, bore a child, wrote a best-selling book and then in 1984 she returned to Russia, saying she was disillusioned with American life.

But she remained there only a couple of years before moving back to the United States and then on to England where, at 74, she lives quietly.

Tracked down by a British journalist last year and asked if she was happy, she parried: "What is happiness? I am satisfied."

At least Svetlana's is a happier story than those of her brothers. Yakov Dzhugashvili, Stalin's first child, an artillery lieutenant, was captured during World War II.

When Germany offered to exchange him for a captive field marshal, Stalin replied through the Swedish Red Cross: "I do not exchange a marshal for a soldier." Adding to the son's humiliation was another of his father's statements: "There are no prisoners of war, there are traitors."

Yakov died in the POW camp, and this summer, 57 years later, the Soviet Military Journal published an article claiming to explain his death. The young prisoner was humiliated, the journal said, by reports that his father had ordered the murder of 15,000 Polish army officers in the Katyn forest. So he flung himself against an electric fence.

Stalin's other son, Vasily Stalin, was an air force general who suffered the classic fate of losers in Kremlin intrigue. In 1955 as de-Stalinization was getting under way two years after his father's death, Vasily was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on charges of financial abuse and making anti-Soviet statements. He died of alcoholism in 1962 shortly after his release from prison.

Last year the Russian Supreme Court overturned the charge of anti-Soviet statements and reduced the seriousness of the financial-abuse charges - in effect, posthumously rehabilitating him.

Of all the Soviet leaders, Nikita Khrushchev had perhaps the most productive progeny. His daughter Rada married a journalist, Alexei Adzhubei, who probably owed his rise, and certainly owed his fall, to family connections.

But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Adzhubei shook up and greatly improved Soviet journalism.

Scholar, not defector

Khrushchev's son, Sergei, made headlines last year when he took American citizenship - 40 years, as gloating American commentators were quick to point out, after his father had vowed that the Soviet Union would bury America.

But Sergei Khrushchev, 64, is no defector. He is a scholar, teaching at Brown University and writing about Russia and Soviet-American relations, particularly during the Cold War period when his father was in power. His new book is "Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower."

Leonid Brezhnev's time in power came to be known as the "period of stagnation." But there was nothing stagnant about his children's social lives.

Brezhnev's son Yuri was a legendary drunk who got the dream sinecure for a high-liver: deputy foreign trade minister. His duties took him hunting in Africa and night-clubbing in Paris, on one memorable occasion plying the topless dancers with $100 bills.

Yuri's sister, Galina, was a philology student in Kishinev, Moldavia, already with a reputation for promiscuity, when in 1951 the circus came to town. When it left, Galina went, too - and much to her father's chagrin, she never returned to respectable life.

First she married a strongman, then a magician. She had affairs with lion tamers, clowns and acrobats. Eventually she acceded to her father's will and married his choice, a young police lieutenant.

Both spouses prospered: Galina got an apartment of her own and cover for her continuing adventures; and her new husband, Yuri Churbanov, enjoyed a meteoric career, rising to three-star general and deputy minister of the interior.

As the "period of stagnation" drew to a close in 1982, rumors started to fly about corruption and licentiousness reaching right into the Kremlin. Someone, it seemed, was trying to discredit the senescent Leonid Brezhnev.

Enter Boris the Gypsy

The central figure in the scandal was the flamboyant Boris Buryatse, known as "Boris the Gypsy." With his mink coat and mink boots, lapdog and diamond-encrusted cross, he was apparently irresistible to Galina, who installed him in the Bolshoi Ballet.

It was said that Galina and Boris used their connections to smuggle diamonds - in one case, in a circus elephant's teeth.

Convicted of speculation in contraband goods, Boris the Gypsy was bundled off to prison, where he eventually died. If Galina's husband Churbanov was inclined to gloat, he did not do so for long. He was convicted of taking bribes and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Galina escaped prosecution and lived out her days on the outskirts of Moscow, gradually selling off her mementos to buy increasingly expensive vodka.

She was always available for interviews by foreign journalists - provided they paid their respects with a couple of bottles. "Papa used to say he had to keep one eye on the country and one eye on me," she would say proudly.

When Galina died in 1998 at age 69, the Russian NHK television eulogized her thus: "She loved diamonds and wild rides in Papa's Mercedes; but by today's standards she was a good girl."

"Today's standards" was presumably a dig at the wide-open corruption of post-Communist Russia. One participant, according to whispers in Moscow, was Boris N. Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko.

Russian media unfriendly to her father claimed to know that she had made tens of thousands of dollars worth of purchases on the credit card of a Swiss company that had lucrative Kremlin contracts, and that her husband, Leonid, was linked to foreign bank accounts and oil trading.

And the new man in the Kremlin, Vladimir V. Putin? He met his wife, Lyudmila, an airline stewardess, on a blind date. Their daughters, Masha and Katya, 15 and 14, are being tutored at home.

They seem to be the ideal Kremlin family, seldom seen and almost never heard.

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