Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 181

Oligarch-watching is one of the Russian media’s favorite pastimes, and the press has recently discovered a “new” tycoon whose political influence is reportedly greatly increasing. The new rising star is Vladimir Kogan, chairman of the observer’s council of the Promstroibank-St. Petersburg. According to one observer, Promstroibank virtually privatized Russia’s second city during the 1990s and is today a multibillion-dollar empire which controls St. Petersburg’s ports, airports, transportation and communications companies (Moskovsky komsomolets, September 27). According to several newspaper accounts, as far back as the perestroika era Kogan was a patron of St. Petersburg’s so-called “young reformers,” who were led Anatoly Chubais (currently head of United Energy Systems) and included Aleksei Kurdrin (currently a deputy prime minister), German Gref (today economic development minister) and Mikhail Manevich, the St. Petersburg privatization chief who was assassinated in 1997. Kogan was also reportedly closely connected to former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who today heads the Audit Chamber and whose wife works in Promstroibank, and Ilya Klebanov, the current deputy prime minister in charge of the military-industrial complex. Kogan, apparently, did not limit his contacts to the Chubais group. He reportedly forged “stable contacts” with Boris Berezovsky through another St. Petersburg banker, Vadim Zingman, and assisted Fatherland-All Russia, the political coalition led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in their campaign in St. Petersburg during last year’s parliamentary elections. In addition, one claimed that Promstroibank has connections with Kostya Mogila (Kostya the Grave), one of St. Petersburg’s criminal bosses (Novaya gazeta, September 25).

Vladimir Putin, of course, started his political career in St. Petersburg, as deputy to Anatoly Sobchak, St. Petersburg’s first mayor, and Kogan reportedly has a direct link into the Kremlin through Dmitri Kozak, deputy Kremlin administration chief and a close Putin associate. The newspapers speculated that Kogan could win a high government post if, as many observers believe, Putin shakes up his cabinet (Moskovsky komsomolets, September 27; Novaya gazeta, Kompaniya, September 25).

Other observers, meanwhile, were touting a different new behind-the-scenes powerbroker. The website quoted the newspaper Izvestia identifying a new frequent visitor to the Kremlin as Lev Levaev, described as an “Israeli entrepreneur” who heads two diamond-cutting factories–“Kama-Kristall,” located in Perm Oblast, and “Ruiz Diamond,” located in Moscow. Izvestia was quoted as saying that “Levaev’s authority and influence is not limited to regional diamond markets” and that since the summer he has become “a new Kremlin oligarch” who is being compared with Roman Abramovich, the power behind the Sibneft oil company and perhaps the most influential oligarch in the country. The paper reported that Levaev met with Putin several times when the latter was prime minister, and that Levaev “has entree” into the offices of the presidential administration (Russian agencies, September 28).