The latest rumors of an impending cabinet shake-up are part of more generalized frenzy of rumors concerning the fate of top officials. Sergei Shoigu, the emergency situations minister and de facto head of Unity, the pro-Putin political party, is rumored to be in political trouble, and some sources have also put Aleksandr Voloshin, head of the Kremlin administration, on the removal list (see the Monitor, November 28). The rumors that Kasyanov will be replaced have appeared regularly since the summer, with Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, usually named as his likely replacement (see the Monitor, August 1, November 22). While Moscow’s political rumor mill is always hyperactive, this time there is a strong sense that a political battle is indeed going on behind the scenes.
Yesterday, for example, Igor Artemev, deputy head of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, said that a probe by the St. Petersburg prosecutor’s office into alleged past abuses by the city’s finance committee was being directed by the federal Prosecutor General’s Office, as part of a political campaign to discredit “liberal” members of the federal government, including Aleksei Kudrin. Both Artemev and Kudrin formerly headed the St. Petersburg administration’s finance committee and were recently questioned in connection with the case (see the Monitor, November 22). Artemev said that the case was clearly connected to a power struggle within the government, but would not speculate on who might be pushing the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate him and Kudrin (Kommersant, Izvestia, November 30). According to one theory, the “Chekists” within the Kremlin inner circle–the name used to refer to the group of KGB veterans and long-time Putin associates, including Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov–may be trying to knock Kudrin out of the running to replace Kasyanov (see the Monitor, November 22). According to another theory, a number of Russia’s large oil companies–some of whose heads are connected to the “Family,” the group of Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders who still have significant influence–are unhappy with Kudrin for his attempts to crack down on tax evasion (see the Monitor, November 27).
Kremlin adviser Gleb Pavlovsky claimed earlier this week in an interview with his own website, strana.ru, that the various rumors and leaks to newspapers concerning Voloshin, Shoigu and other top Kremlin officials were part of a well-organized assault on the Putin administration. Pavlovsky said that the attack was not being carried out not by the oligarchs–as he put it, “the old, defeated Berezovsky-Gusinsky team”–but by various regional leaders in the new State Council, who, he claimed, are seeking to revise the constitution, “clean out” the presidential administration and turn the State Council into “a parallel institution of power” (Russian agencies, November 28).
GUUAM ECLIPSES CIS ON THE EVE OF MOSCOW SUMMIT.