Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 159

Russian politicians and media are speaking very nearly in unison in criticizing allegations in the Western press reports concerning the investigation into Russian moneylaundering through the Bank of New York.

Among the top politicians, for example, both Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yegor Gaidar–two former prime ministers whose political movements recently had a rancorous falling out over the formation of a united center-right political front–have all but dismissed the allegations. Gaidar, who heads Democratic Choice of Russia, which has joined the newly formed Union of Right-Wing Forces, told reporters on August 29 that while the allegations of moneylaundering through the Bank of New York deserve a “serious investigation,” Russia “is not the only country where the laundering of capital takes place.” He added that it is “completely obvious” that the investigation has become part of the U.S. electoral campaign and that past audits have shown that Russia has not misused money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). According to U.S. media reports, some of the billions of dollars allegedly laundered were from IMF credits.

Gaidar also defended his old comrade Anatoly Chubais, Russia’s privatization architect who now heads United Energy Systems, from charges made last week by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, that Chubais was one of a number of top Russian officials with Swiss bank accounts (Russian agencies, August 29). Chubais denied ever having had foreign bank accounts. Newsweek reported this week that the CIA believes that Semyon Mogilevich, a reputed Russian mobster whose name has been at the center of the Bank of New York moneylaundering case, had “business interactions” with members of Russia’s political elite, especially Chubais and Chernomyrdin. Chernomyrdin, meanwhile, called allegations that IMF credits were stolen “improbable,” and Corriere della Sera’s allegation that Yeltsin and his two daughters received US$1 million from the Swiss construction firm Mabetex a “fantasy” (Moskovsky komsomolets, August 30).

The weekly magazine Expert, which is part of the Interros financial-industrial group run by Vladimir Potanin, claimed that the Western press reports on the Bank of New York scandal were drawn from a paper on Russian organized crime prepared by U.S. intelligence officials and were aimed at helping those candidates whom the West would like to see replace President Boris Yeltsin–particularly Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed. Experts said that the ultimate aim of the Western press reports is two-fold: first, to bring about a “review of the results of privatization” in Russia so that Western companies can participate in buying Russian industrial enterprises, and, second, to weaken U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Democrats while strengthening the Republicans, “who traditionally support big capital” (Expert, August 30).

Meanwhile, Russian Public Television (ORT), which is reportedly controlled by the Kremlin insider and tycoon Boris Berezovsky, pointed to the lack of concrete evidence in the Western reporting on the Bank of New York and Swiss bank accounts scandals, calling it an “anti-Russian campaign” designed to “compromise” the Clinton administration and U.S. Vice President Al Gore on the eve of presidential elections in the United States (ORT, August 29).

Even articles which conceded the dimensions of the problem of high-level corruption in Russia, such as one written by Tatyana Malkina, Kremlin correspondent for the Vremya MN newspaper, still found a way to pin the ultimate blame on the West. “If the West really was concerned about Russia’s fate, it would have detected this foul odor a long time ago,” Malkina wrote. “It would not have given us IMF credits, not have condoned the [October 1993] shelling of the parliament or the war in Chechnya, not shaken Yeltsin’s hand.”