Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 23

In fact, Putin, like his predecessor, appeared to be having a hard time imposing order on his own inner circle, let alone on far-off Tatarstan or Chuvashia. One sign that a full-scale power struggle was going on inside the government were law enforcement raids on three of St. Petersburg’s largest banks. One of them, Promstroibank-St. Petersburg, is headed by Vladimir Kogan, a long-time Putin associate who reportedly has close links to other top government officials from Russia’s second city, including Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin. Meanwhile, Kudrin, who once headed St. Petersburg’s finance committee, and Igor Artemev, a State Duma deputy who headed the committee after Kudrin, were questioned as part of an investigation into alleged abuses involving St. Petersburg’s finances. Artemev said afterwards that he was sure the investigation was part of a high-level power struggle and aimed at gathering dirt on “liberal” members of the government, including Kudrin. According to one theory, the “Chekists,” a group of KGB veterans in Putin’s government, were trying to eliminate Kudrin from the contest to replace Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in favor of their man, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov. According to another theory, certain oil barons, unhappy with Kudrin’s efforts to crack down on tax evasion, were behind the investigation.

Meanwhile, rumors that Emergency Situation Minister Sergei Shoigu, head of the Unity party, was on his way out were given credence on November 30, when Shoigu revealed that the Prosecutor General’s Office had sent him a letter warning that he was violating the law by heading Unity and holding a ministerial portfolio. While many observers believe that the Kremlin itself was behind Shoigu’s travails, as part of an effort to get rid of Yeltsin-era officials, the scandal surrounding Shoigu revealed the degree to which Unity, previously seen as one of the Putin regime’s pillars, was anything but unified.