Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 11

?But if Putin was proactive in cutting the regional barons down to size, he was less so when it came to his promise to end the privileges and access to state power of the so-called “oligarchs.” Indeed, while pro-Kremlin politicians and media, along with some wishful-thinking liberals, saw the May 11 police raid on the headquarters of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most as the start of Putin’s bid to bring the oligarchs down to the level of mere mortals, subsequent events put this conclusion in doubt. First, Putin appointed a cabinet, including newly-named Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, that was dominated by reputed allies of the “Family”–that is, the group of Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders generally associated with Boris Berezovsky, Gusinsky’s arch-enemy.

But the biggest scandal involved the post of prosecutor general. Putin reportedly picked Dmitri Kozak, head of the cabinet’s administration and a long-time associate, for the chief prosecutor’s job, only to change his mind and pick acting Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov, literally at the last minute. According to anonymous insiders quoted in the press, Putin changed his mind after a visit from Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, a Berezovsky ally, and Berezovsky himself, according to some reports. The impression that the “Family”–and particularly Berezovsky–continues to play a pre-eminent role was re-enforced when ORT, the 51-percent state-owned television company reportedly controlled by Berezovsky, won a “competitive” tender to renew its license to broadcast on the state’s Channel One. The license had been put up for tender as “punishment” for ORT’s mudslinging against Yuri Luzhkov, Yevgeny Primakov and other Kremlin enemies during last winter’s parliamentary election campaign.