Nazir Khapsirokov, the former “property manager” for the Prosecutor General’s Office, has been named a deputy head of the Kremlin administration. While his exact duties have not yet been made public, Khapsirokov will be one of five deputies to Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin. The new deputy presidential administration chief is both a shadowy figure and a controversial one. He was removed from the Prosecutor General’s Office last summer. According to Kommersant, the pretext for this was the suspicion that he had received a US$1 million bribe in return for quashing a corruption investigation of former Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Petrov. Afterwards, Khapsirokov went to work at Mezhprombank, an institution said to be closely linked to the Kremlin. Former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov and former Deputy Prosecutor General Mikhail Katyshev have both said that Khapsirokov wielded immense behind-the-scenes power while serving as property manager for the prosecutor’s office. They also said he maintained “good relations” with President Vladimir Putin and was “friends” with Boris Berezovsky, the once-powerful oligarch who is now in self-imposed exile, and Pavel Borodin, the former Kremlin property manager and current Russia-Belarus union state secretary who was arrested in New York last month on a Swiss warrant. Khapsirokov is rumored to have played a role in organizing the discrediting of Skuratov, who had launched both the Mabetex case, involving Borodin, and the Aeroflot case, involving Berezovsky, among other high-profile corruption probes. In early 1999, then President Boris Yeltsin suspended Skuratov after a tape allegedly showing him in bed with two call girls was shown on state television. In a profile of Khapsirokov published last year, the weekly newspaper Sobesednik claimed that in 1999 Berezovsky had showed up at the Prosecutor General’s Office with an “armful” of roses for Khapsirokov the day on which the charges against the tycoon connected to the Aeroflot case were dropped. Coincidentally, Russian media reported yesterday that Berezovsky is about to be charged once again in connection with that case.
Khapsirokov is also said to have played a key role in getting Vladimir Ustinov appointed to the post of prosecutor general last year. That appointment caused something of a scandal after various media reported that Voloshin, possibly in conjunction with Berezovsky, had overruled Putin’s choice for prosecutor general, Dmitry Kozak, and essentially forced Putin to appoint Ustinov (see the Monitor, May 18, 2000). The newspaper Vedomosti reported today that Ustinov has since started to annoy Voloshin and members of his team, who are unhappy with his “excessive zeal” in prosecuting Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most and, more generally, his “excessive independence.” Thus Khapsirokov may have been appointed to serve as a warning to and a check on Ustinov (Vedomosti, Kommersant, Segodnya, February 2; Russian agencies, February 1; Sobesednik, December 21, 2000).
It is less clear why the Russian president would sign off on hiring someone like Khapsirokov as a deputy chief of staff, given the latter’s controversial reputation and purported close links with the Yeltsin-era inner circle, from which Putin is supposedly trying to distance himself. Ever since Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin, some observers have speculated that members of the Yeltsin-era “Family” had “kompromat” (compromising material) on the new head of state, and that this accounted for Putin’s reported acquiescence in being overruled in his choice of prosecutor general, among other things. The Gazeta.ru website, however, dismissed this explanation yesterday, arguing that Khapsirokov was appointed precisely because of his questionable reputation, on the theory that a “dirty” enemy who has received a conditional “royal pardon” is “a more valuable cadre resource than a relatively clean friend who has initiative.” Putin, the website said, “prefers compromised–and thus deeply devoted–colleagues” (Gazeta.ru, February 1). It is worth noting here that, contrary to the expectations of the many observers who have been predicting an imminent purge of Yeltsin-era officials, including Voloshin, Putin this week issued a decree effectively subordinating his seven representatives in the federal districts to the Kremlin chief of staff (see the Monitor, February 1). It should also be noted that Voloshin himself has a controversial reputation, having been closely connected to Boris Berezovsky, along with several alleged pyramid schemes.
All of this is further evidence that Putin, despite his vows to establish a “dictatorship of the law” and a “strict presidential vertical of power,” may increasingly be resorting to his predecessor Boris Yeltsin’s style of rule, which was characterized by court intrigue, along with feudalistic deal-cutting and power-sharing. The most tangible recent sign of this was last month’s passage in the State Duma of a Kremlin-backed bill allowing sixty-nine of Russia’s eighty-nine incumbent regional leaders to seek third or even fourth terms in office (see the Monitor, January 30). Noting that Yeltsin once urged the country’s regions to take as much sovereignty as they could swallow, Vlast, Kommersant’s weekly magazine, said this week that Putin’s Kremlin, facing a deteriorating Russian economic situation, has been “forced to revert to Yeltsin’s principles in its regional policy” (Vlast, January 30).
PATRUSHEV SAYS 1,500 HARDCORE CHECHEN GUERRILLAS REMAIN.