Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 219

Various Russian media and politicians have been commenting on the behind-the-scenes power struggle said to be ongoing in the Kremlin. This battle is reportedly taking place between members of the Yeltsin-era Kremlin inner circle, otherwise known as the Family, and newer officials and power-brokers who came to the fore with Vladimir Putin’s accession as head of state. This second group, many of whose members hail from the president’s home town of St. Petersburg and share his KGB background, is sometimes referred to in the Russian media as the Chekists.

One Yeltsin-era figure, himself seen as a leading Family member, recently weighed in on the power struggle. Valentin Yumashev–the former Kremlin administration chief and ghostwriter of Yeltsin’s memoirs who recently married Yeltsin’s younger daughter, Tat’yana Dyachenko–reportedly told a group of journalists this week that Putin risked becoming a “prisoner” of the siloviki–the Russian term for the heads of “power ministries” like the Defense and Interior Ministries and Federal Security Service–in much the same way that Boris Yeltsin for a time became a prisoner of a triumvirate of security officials headed by Presidential Security Service chief Aleksandr Korzhakov. Yumashev was quoted as saying he thought that Putin “underestimates the independence of the ‘power’ part of his inner circle, and thus may sooner or later wind up in the situation of Yeltsin in 1996, who was forced to choose ‘between the nation and Korzhakov.'” Yeltsin fired Korzhakov and two of his allies in June 1996.

While Yumashev did not name the officials in Putin’s inner circle he had in mind, he may have been referring to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, among others. Yumashev reportedly told the journalists that, were the siloviki in Putin’s inner circle to prevail, it would lead not only to a redistribution of the country’s financial flows and zones of economic influence, but as well to changes in the ideology of the country’s leadership and its domestic and foreign policies. The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, which reported Yumashev’s comments, itself claimed that the battle “for control over financial flows” within the presidential administration and the cabinet between the Yeltsin-era holdovers and the St. Petersburg ex-KGB group had reached a new stage.

Moskovsky Komsomolets and a number of other media also gave significance to a report aired earlier this week on the Moskoviya television channel that a leading Family member, Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, had tendered his resignation (Moskovsky Komsomolets, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 28;, November 27). While that report has not proven true–at least as of this writing–it was significant, given that Moskoviya is said to be controlled by Sergei Pugachev, the head of Mezhprombank. Pugachev was himself once identified as a Family member, but has more recently been described as the businessman closest to the head of state, much the way that Boris Berezovsky used to be close to Yeltsin (Moskovsky Komsomolets, November 26).

Yevgeny Kiselev, the general director of the Berezovsky-owned TV-6 television channel, which is now facing liquidation (see the Monitor, November 28), last Sunday devoted a long segment on his “Itogi” program to the Kremlin power struggle. Kiselev cited reports in the media that Pugachev is behind the Kremlin’s attempts to take control of the ALROSA diamond concern from the regional authorities in Yakutia and that the banker has been cultivating the image of a “Russian Orthodox businessman”–a significant factor given that Putin is himself a person of “sincere and deep” religious belief, as one report put it. Another reputed member of the Chekists, Yury Zaostrovtsev, a deputy FSB director who is currently in charge of organizing relations between the president and big business, is also said to have close relations with the Orthodox Church’s hierarchy (TV-6, November 25; see also the Monitor, May 12, June 19, 2000; August 1).

Boris Nemtsov, the former deputy prime minister who heads the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), weighed in on the Kremlin power struggle yesterday. Nemtsov said that if he had to choose one side, he probably supported “the Voloshin group”–meaning the Yeltsin-era holdovers–against the siloviki. The KGB veterans, Nemtsov argued, are “hungry,” and thus “will try to redistribute property using KGB technologies–jailing, intimidating, attacking, et cetera…. I believe that the old ones, who are already satiated, are less dangerous than the hungry new ones.” Nemtsov added: “From the point of view of stability in Russia, maintaining the status quo is what is needed.” The SPS leader also predicted that Putin would not support the siloviki in ousting Voloshin (, November 28). It should be noted that both Nemtsov and Kiselev are themselves connected in various ways to the Yeltsin-era insiders, and thus would tend to be less supportive–and more fearful–of the Chekists.

Commentators have speculated that the recent upsurge in activity by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Audit Chamber in investigating the Railways Ministry, the Emergency Situations Ministry and the State Fisheries Committee, along with other state structures through which huge finances flow, is part of the Chekists war against the Yeltsin-era holdovers (see the Monitor, October 23, November 1, 15). Just today it was reported that the Prosecutor General’s Office has charged two top officials in the State Customs Committee–Aleksandr Volkov, head of the customs inspection department, and Marat Faizulin, first deputy chief of the customs investigation department–with exceeding their authority (RBK, November 29).

All of this suggests that the methods of struggling for power in Russia remain largely unchanged in the Putin era, at least thus far. “Inasmuch as the level of state control of the Russian economy–or, more accurately, its bureaucratization–remains, as before, extremely high, the economic component of the interclan struggle also remains salient,” wrote the website. “Of course, outward proprieties have increased since the period of primitive distribution of quotas and licensing at the start of the 1990s, but not to the degree that would allow one to say that relations within the Russian power elite have acquired the traits of serene, altruistic, selfless work for the good of the Motherland” (, November 27). Boris Nemtsov, for his part, put it this way: “Russia is a Byzantine country; the under-the-carpet struggle is for it the meaning of life” (, November 28).