In response to Berezovsky’s open letter, FSB Director Vladimir Putin released a statement yesterday in which he said his agency “will not participate in any political games, no matter how many attempts are made to draw us into them.” Putin wrote that his service is fully cooperating with the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office, which is continuing to investigate the alleged assassination plot. Putin admitted that the investigation had been briefly terminated earlier this year, and then re-opened. If the charges turn out to be false, Putin warned, the FSB’s legal department will sue both the newspapers which have reported them and those “persons who have given false testimony” (Kommersant daily, November 18).
Some Russian media today raised questions about the accusations of Berezovsky and Litvinenko. In a front-page analysis, “Komsomolskaya pravda,” citing unnamed FSB sources, suggested that Litvinenko himself had headed a renegade group of FSB officers which had been engaged in criminal activities. It also quoted an unnamed FSB official as questioning whether the task to kill Berezovsky would have been given to Litvinenko, a man known to be close to the tycoon. The newspaper, it should be noted, is controlled by Oneksimbank, one of Berezovsky’s strongest opponents in political-financial dealings. “Nezavisimaya gazeta” and “Novye izvestia,” both reportedly controlled by Berezovsky, gave the tycoon’s charges and Tuesday’s press conference much more respectful coverage. Meanwhile, Yuri Shchekochikhin, a member of the State Duma’s security committee, wrote this week in “Novaya gazeta” that Berezovsky may have attacked the Prosecutor General’s Office in his letter to Putin because it has been investigating “criminal cases which have a direct relationship to certain firms and banks under Berezovsky’s jurisdiction” (Novaya gazeta, No. 45, November 16-22). Shchekochikhin, it should be noted, has frequently written articles in “Novaya gazeta” detailing alleged criminal activity by FSB officers, including Yevgeny Khokholkov, the man who allegedly ordered Berezovsky’s murder.
“Vremya-MN” wrote today that the fact the accusations have gone public suggests either that an internal FSB power struggle has gone out of control, or that certain high-level FSB officials are using Litvinenko to create a scandal designed to get rid of rivals within the agency (Vremya-MN, November 18). One “Kommersant daily” editor told RTR television today that even if the scandal is part of a “political game” by Berezovsky, the fact that a group of FSB officers repeated the charges publicly means the charges are serious enough to warrant a full investigation (RTR, November 18).
A side-bar to the scandal: Last Thursday (November 12), the day before “Kommersant daily” published Berezovsky’s open letter to Putin, the newspaper reported that a group of State Duma deputies had been told in Washington by Judge William Webster, former chief of the FBI and of the CIA, that Berezovsky had purchased property on the island of Antigua for US$72 million. The Duma recently passed a bill, sponsored by Viktor Ilyukhin, head of the chamber’s security committee and a member of the Communist’s radical wing, designed to crack down on money laundering. The Federation Council, the parliament’s upper chamber, has not yet voted on the bill (Kommersant daily, November 12). Today, that newspaper quoted from a letter it said was written by Webster, in which he confirms having met with the Duma delegation, but denies passing on such information or having mentioned Berezovsky at all (Kommersant daily, November 18).
SCHROEDER SAYS NO NEW FINANCIAL AID FOR RUSSIA.