Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 10

By Elena Dikun

The biggest mystery of late autumn was the twisting and turning of Anatoly Chubais. The boss of Unified Energy Systems (UES) suddenly announced to the Moscow establishment that he was leaving for Switzerland on October 9. To do some studying, he said. For a month Chubais planned to grace the halls of academia at a prestigious Geneva school for top managers. By his own admission he had been dreaming of doing this for the last ten years. But then, just as suddenly, he had second thoughts and stayed at home.

Russia’s worldly-wise politicians did not believe Chubais from the start. They felt that it could not have been a desire for knowledge that compelled him to leave the country for a month. He was probably in someone’s way here. There was plenty of speculation, but little of it was convincing. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The tax police had been threatening him with seven years’ imprisonment for nonpayment of taxes, but had backed off with nothing. Fingers were pointed unjustly at the president’s chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, who is generally thought to have designs on Chubais’ job when the time comes for him to leave the Kremlin. Chubais’ close aides delight in telling journalists that their superior has been getting on just fine with Voloshin of late. One of our sources said proudly: “Voloshin has had dozens of opportunities to make Chubais’ life difficult, but he has not taken any of them up.”

There has even been an improvement in his relations with the court oligarch Roman Abramovich, who had ruffled Chubais’ feathers by snatching the aluminum market from under his nose. Chubais had had his eye on that too. Chubais’ people say that: “Abramovich is gradually backing off. Gone are the days when Roman would tell Voloshin what to do, Voloshin would tell Kasyanov, and Kasyanov would do it. If we’re lucky, Roman Abramovich will soon realize his dream of becoming governor of Chukotka, and leave Moscow.”

However, these deliberate leaks by Chubais’ team only served to fuel the suspicion that he sensed some sort of danger, which is why he was planning a “temporary emigration.” To all appearances, the danger at that point emanated from Prime Minister Kasyanov. The fact was that an internal investigation by the White House showed that the man who had commissioned this summer’s massive anti-Kasyanov campaign in the foreign and Russian media was none other than Anatoly Chubais. The inference was that he wanted to see own man–Vice Premier Aleksei Kudrin–as prime minister. Chubais had taken an immediate dislike to Kasyanov, and by autumn relations between them had become quite hostile.

The Kremlin also pointed the finger at Chubais. Information at our disposal suggests that the president was convinced that ill-wishers in Moscow had commissioned Western publicity specialists to write “set essays” in the foreign media, after which they recycled this foreign output in the Russian press. A senior administration official had a very simple explanation for the fact that the compromising material on the prime minister had emanated from Italy and Switzerland–these countries have the lowest rates for placing such pieces. But our source admitted: “But we’re not going to have a public inquiry. Anatoly Borisovich [Chubais] is a member of the president’s team. Someone might think he had been given the go-ahead from above!” According to this version of events, Chubais took the prudent decision to bide his time abroad until the wrath of the prime minister–who is rapidly consolidating his position–had cooled. But at the last minute, with his suitcases already packed, he suddenly decided to go nowhere. What new danger tipped the balance?

We have discovered that this time the danger emanated from the “boss” himself–Vladimir Putin. Chubais was alarmed that the head of state was becoming increasingly taken with the ideas of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It transpires that the visit the president paid to the reclusive writer in Troitsa-Lykovo in September was by no means their first contact–previous meetings had simply not been publicized. The role of fixer, arranging the dialog between the head of state and the philosopher, was first assumed by Yevgeny Primakov, who had access to the author and who also enjoyed the president’s favor. Then the Kremlin’s chief spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky got involved. In his opinion, a widely publicized meeting with the dissident writer would be “a sign of the normality of our leaders.”

However, Chubais’ team has serious concerns that Solzhenitsyn may become Putin’s spiritual mentor, and instill “untimely” ideas in his head. If Solzhenitsyn’s views on the results of the Russian reforms are indeed in tune with Putin’s, and if the president is not averse to adopting the recommendations of the venerable writer, then the privatizers can have little confidence in their political prospects. For Solzhenitsyn believes that the privatization process was a swindle, and that the place for swindlers is in jail.

It is said that Chubais tried to discuss this with the president, warning him that if he paid too much heed to the hermitic writer the repercussions could be very grave for Russia. But he met with little understanding. As the president is keen to strengthen authoritarian rule, it is vital for him to count among his allies a writer whose moral authority justifies and blesses his actions. The liberals fear that an alliance between Putin, Solzhenitsyn and the security services could become the dominant political force. If that is the case, then Kasyanov, Voloshin, Chubais, Abramovich–between whom there is little love lost–will have no option but to join forces and offer an organized opposition to the president, who in their opinion is drifting in a dangerous direction. It is quite understandable that at such a critical moment Chubais decided it was impossible for him to leave the country for an extended period.

Elena Dikun is a political columnist for Obshchaya gazeta.