Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 219

The rumors surrounding the political fate of Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin have intensified this week. Kudrin, who is also Russia’s finance minister, was summoned November 17 by the St. Petersburg prosecutor’s office in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged machinations with the city’s finances from 1992 to 1996, when Anatoly Sobchak was mayor and Kudrin headed the city administration’s economics and finance committee. Kudrin, who was traveling in Siberia with President Vladimir Putin, did not appear for questioning (Russian agencies, November 17). The case, which was originally launched prior to Sobchak’s 1996 election loss to Vladimir Yakovlev, St. Petersburg’s incumbent governor, was subsequently dropped and has now been revived. The St. Petersburg prosecutors yesterday summoned Kudrin’s successor as head of the city finance committee, Igor Artemev, to answer questions in connection with the revived case (Segodnya, November 22). Artemev, who was appointed by Yakovlev to head the finance committee in 1996, resigned from the post in January 1999, citing irreconcilable differences with the governor. He is currently a State Duma deputy and a member of the Yabloko faction.

Observers initially speculated that the criminal case involving Kudrin may have been initiated either by Yakovlev, a traditional enemy, or by unnamed “oil barons” unhappy with Kudrin’s actions as finance minister (see the Monitor, November 17). Speculation now centers on a purported power struggle within President Vladimir Putin’s own team. Rumors have persisted for months that Putin is planning to replace Mikhail Kasyanov as prime minister. Both Kudrin and Sergei Ivanov, head of the Kremlin’s Security Council, have been mentioned as possible replacements (see the Monitor, August 11, September 25). Both Kudrin and Ivanov hail from St. Petersburg. Kudrin, however, belongs to the informal “Petersburg” group of economists centered on Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s controversial privatization scheme who currently heads the country’s electricity monopoly. Ivanov is a long-time Putin associate from the state security establishment. Thus a number of observers see the revival of the investigation into alleged machinations with St. Petersburg’s finances as an attempt by Ivanov’s allies in the Kremlin–the so-called “Chekists”–to find dirt on Kudrin and thereby eliminate him from the contest to replace Kasyanov. Indeed, Igor Artemev said: “I have the impression that a serious battle is taking place in Moscow: one of the groups vying for the premier’s post is the Petersburg group, the other is headed by Sergei Ivanov. You can draw your own conclusions from this” (Segodnya, November 22). If such a power struggle is indeed going on, Kudrin would appear to be losing it: Putin has berated him twice over the past week, once for failing to stop the widespread theft of nonferrous metals and a second time for failing to meet its financial obligations to servicemen (Moscow Times, November 21; see also the Monitor, November 21).

Another criminal investigation launched last week–involving allegations of bribe-taking by officials of one of St. Petersburg’s largest banks, PSB-St. Petersburg–may also be connected to this power struggle. Police last week carried out searches of the bank’s offices (see the Monitor, November 17). There is, however, a counter-theory to the one involving the reported attempt by the “Chekists” to discredit Kudrin. Enemies of Putin, it holds, may be using both new criminal cases in St. Petersburg in an attempt to uncover dirt on Putin himself. Along these lines, it is worth noting that the Russian president was once a deputy to Anatoly Sobchak, reportedly had close relations with PSB-St. Petersburg founder Vladimir Kogan and has himself been mentioned in connection with alleged financial machinations in St. Petersburg (see, for example, the file putatively compiled on Putin by the Federal Security Service recently published by the stringer-agency.ru website). Some observers speculate that some of Putin’s erstwhile allies–particularly the tycoon Boris Berezovsky–may be behind an effort to discredit him (Moscow Times, November 21).