In Russia itself, meanwhile, political infighting continued over Putin’s controversial plan to strengthen federal control over Russia’s regions. As Russian lawmakers moved to consider a package of legislation that would formalize the recentralization effort, opposition to the plan was voiced by an unlikely source. On May 31 a Russian daily published an open letter sent to Putin by Boris Berezovsky, the notorious Kremlin insider who currently sits in the State Duma. Berezovsky said that he would vote against the centralization legislation and warned that the Kremlin’s efforts in this area threatened both Russia’s “territorial integrity” and the country’s nascent democratic system.
Russia being Russia, however, interpretations of Berezovsky’s remarks were wildly divergent. Some suggested that they signified the emergence of splits within the Kremlin inner circle over the centralization plan. Others took a more Machiavellian view. They said that Putin’s comments might actually be aimed at shoring up support for Putin’s measures among State Duma deputies. The exchange between Berezovsky and the Kremlin came, moreover, came amid broader speculation as to Putin’s relationship with the so-called “family,” the group of Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders whose number includes Berezovsky. Putin’s recent appointment to top government positions of many allies of the “family” has raised questions about the Russian president’s credibility as an independent actor.