Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 20

Two notable absentees at both the Yeltsin and Putin events were Media-Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky and his long-time rival, Boris Berezovsky. Both men are discussed in Yeltsin’s memoirs: the former president says he disliked Berezovsky but valued his brains, and that he viewed Gusinsky as a traitor for Media-Most’s coverage of Kremlin corruption scandals and its support of former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Gusinsky, meanwhile, ignored another summons from the Prosecutor General’s Office to answer questions concerning Media-Most’s alleged attempts to hide its assets from its main creditor, Gazprom, by transferring them abroad. According to his lawyer, Gusinsky feared he would be arrested if he returned to Russia for questioning, as happened earlier this year. And while, as the fortnight came to a close, Media-Most announced that it had reached an agreement-in-principle with Gazprom to pay off its debts, the state turned up the pressure, taking Media-Most to court to collect loans that Vneshekonombank and the Finance Ministry had guaranteed and were past due. According to some observers, the Kremlin’s carrot and stick approach was working: Gusinsky’s media, they said, was already toning down its criticism of Putin.

For his part, Berezovsky showed up at the Prosecutor General’s Office to answer questions related to the alleged embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars from the national airline company Aeroflot by two Berezovsky-linked firms in Switzerland. For good measure, Berezovsky was kicked out of his state dacha, which he had been renting for $300,000 a year. On the other hand, the authorities’ treatment of Berezovsky still seemed to differ qualitatively from its treatment of Gusinsky. Thus while Berezovsky accused the Kremlin of using the Aeroflot case to exert political pressure on him, he showed no signs that he thought the authorities really planned to jail him. “The regime can defeat the oligarch [Berezovsky] by using information concerning the Aeroflot case received from the Swiss prosecutor’s office,” the government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta wrote. “But the case is classified. That is why Berezovsky enjoys the status of ‘immunity’. And he knows it.” Why the Aeroflot case was “classified” or why Berezovsky had been granted “immunity,” the paper did not say.

Meanwhile, the Yeltsin-Putin joint venture known as the war in Chechnya continued to run its lethal course. With the conventional war over, the conflict was now well into its terrorist phase, with Russian forces encountering rebel-placed bombs throughout the breakaway republic. Many of them, according to the Russian military, were found and safely defused. Others, unfortunately, were not. On October 12, a car bomb went off outside a police station in Grozny, the Chechen capital, killing 15 people, including both police personnel and civilians.