Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 222

President Boris Yeltsin said yesterday that he intends to keep First Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais in his post and "will not give him up." (Itar-Tass, November 25) But Igor Malashenko, President of the influential Russian private TV company, NTV, predicted that Yeltsin will sack Chubais early in the new year.

Addressing a lunch party yesterday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Malashenko recalled that Yeltsin had sacked Chubais once before, in January 1996, declaring then that "everything is Chubais’s fault." Malashenko said that dismissing Chubais at present would serve no useful purpose for Yeltsin. But he predicted that, come next January, when the population realizes that the government cannot meet its promise to clear all wage and pensions arrears, Yeltsin will look for a scapegoat to mollify public opinion. At that time he is likely to sack Chubais and perhaps the rest of the government as well.

Malashenko said that he and other media tycoons supported Yeltsin and Chubais in the 1996 presidential election campaign because the alternative — a Communist president — would have been incomparably worse. He said that they made a mistake in continuing to support Chubais in the post-election "honeymoon," but were forced into it because Yeltsin was so weak in the run-up to his heart operation. After that, Malashenko said, he had a major disagreement with Chubais. He said Chubais sees himself as "a man with a mission" to change the balance of power in favor of one single financial group — Oneksimbank — and to determine who will be the "candidate of the elite" in the next presidential election in 2000. After they fell out, Malashenko claimed, Chubais twice threatened to close down NTV. In turn, he said, Chubais thinks NTV is out to destroy him.

Malashenko denied that this was the case or that the present Kremlin upheavals are the result of a "media war." Rather, Malashenko argued, the media are merely tools in the hands of the politicians. If politicians want to use media reports of corruption to destroy a rival, they will do so, he said. But if they do not want to attack a rival, they will ignore the stories. It is therefore wrong, Malashenko said, to speak of a "media war" against politicians.

Malashenko’s audience challenged this analysis, saying he was underestimating the influence of the Russian media. The media are very powerful and are so closely linked to political and financial interests that it would be disingenuous to claim that the media play no independent role in the power struggle, they argued.

Malashenko disagreed, and attributed the present upheavals to Yeltsin’s determination not to spend the last two years of his presidency as a lame duck. He said Yeltsin used the media accusations against Chubais in order to destroy the personal power base Chubais had been building and to throw the entire government into a state of disequilibrium. Malashenko said that, at the same time, the rise and fall of Chubais demonstrate that Russia’s reforms are no longer personalized or dependent on a single individual. After Chubais, another "reformer" will emerge. At present, Chubais is himself a lame duck, Malashenko said, but his career is not over and, even if Yeltsin does sack him in the near future, he is likely to return to power eventually.

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