Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 141

Russian observers remain split over whether the moves against Vladimir Gusinsky, Vladimir Potanin and the other oligarchs are being dictated by those holding “sway” over the Kremlin. By this meaning two groups. First, the “Family”–those Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders among which are or have been the tycoons Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich and Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin. Second, the KGB and Russian security service veterans whom President Vladimir Putin has elevated since his accession as head of state–which include Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council, a powerful presidential advisory body.

The Gazeta.ru website speculated today that the move against Gusinsky and Media-Most may originally have been sparked by Abramovich, who controls Sibneft, the oil company which recently helped form a new holding which itself now controls up to 80 percent of Russia’s lucrative aluminum industry. Abramovich reportedly may want to take Media-Most for himself. On the other hand, the web site said, Putin and his associates may themselves want to control Media-Most’s NTV, along with Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned television channel generally thought to be controlled by Berezovsky. It was suggested that competition between the two “clans”–the “Family” and Putin’s “Chekists”–is growing notably more pitched.

Expert, the weekly magazine owned by Potanin’s Interros, said this week that Abramovich, Moscow banker Aleksandr Mamut and “one of the Chorny brothers”–a reference to Mikhail and Lev Chorny, who reportedly controlled most of Russia’s aluminum until recently–want to get control over Norilsk. The magazine cited “experts” as saying that the “Family” remains “objectively stronger than the president” (Ekspert, July 17). Today, Kommersant, the newspaper owned by Berezovsky, suggested that Berezovsky himself may be behind the prosecutor’s steps against Norilsk (Kommersant, July 20). It is worth noting here that the motion in the Duma to declare the Norilsk privatization invalid was introduced by introduced by Aleksei Mitrofanov, a member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, who also called this week for Berezovsky to be named Russia’s first civilian defense minister (Russian agencies, July 19).

Berezovsky, meanwhile, yesterday formally gave up his seat in the State Duma representing the Karachaevo-Cherkessia national republic and vowed to continue his opposition to Putin’s centralization plans. Mikhail Berger, editor of Segodnya, Media-Most’s newspaper, suggested that Berezovsky’s very public show of leading the “constructive opposition” to Putin may be part of an attempt by him to convince the Kremlin to join him in a “political game,” but that they Kremlin may be uninterested (Segodnya, July 19). The Swiss authorities, meanwhile, said yesterday that US$715 million were diverted from Aeroflot, the Russian state airline, in a scheme that allegedly involved two Swiss front companies set up by Berezovsky (AP, July 19).