Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 15

?The most popular explanation for what was going on was that Putin and the KGB veterans whom he had brought into the Kremlin, including Sergei Ivanov, head of the powerful Security Council, were doing what they know best–reasserting state control by repressing independent centers of power. However, there was a more mundane–but, in some ways, more plausible, given the pattern of the 1990s–explanation for what was going on: certain tycoons were simply using the law enforcement organs to corner the market. “Some oligarchs are rubbing out others,” LUKoil vice president Leonid Fedun pithily asserted in an interview with Financial Times.

Indeed, various Moscow observers noted the rumors that Sibneft oil chief Roman Abramovich, who earlier this year helped create a holding that now controls up to 80 percent of Russia’s aluminum production, covets Norilsk Nickel and Gusinsky’s NTV. They also noted that Sibneft is competing with LUKoil for the last remaining fully state-owned oil production facilities. And the fact that the authorities, in carrying out their “anti-oligarch” campaign, had not come knocking at Sibneft’s door seemed more than a simple oversight. At the same time, the authorities did seem to be taking aim at Boris Berezovsky, perhaps the most notorious member of the “Family.” That, of course, is the group of Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders which also includes Abramovich, Moscow banker Aleksandr Mamut and Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin. The Prosecutor General’s Office even summoned Berezovsky for questioning in connection with the alleged large-scale embezzlement of funds from the state airline Aeroflot (more than US$700 million had gone missing from the airline, Swiss investigators announced). Berezovsky, meanwhile, declared himself a “constructive opponent” of Putin’s measures to reduce the power of regional leaders, said he was willing to return his 49 percent share in Russian Public Television to the state, and made a public show of quitting the State Duma and thus losing his immunity from prosecution. None of this, however, dispelled the suspicion of some that Berezovsky’s “comeuppance” was, thus far, more political theater than reality.

Few, however, doubted Vladimir Gusinsky when he said that he feared for his life and hinted he might have to emigrate. Media-Most’s outlets, after all, had not only questioned such Kremlin policies as the war in Chechnya. Perhaps more to the point, they had repeatedly focused on alleged high-level corruption in the Kremlin and within the law enforcement bodies, particularly the Prosecutor General’s Office. It was perhaps no accident that investigators showed up to impound Gusinsky’s suburban Moscow home just days after Media-Most outlets charged that Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov received a US$400,000 apartment from the Kremlin’s “property” department when it was headed by Pavel Borodin, the long-time Yeltsin crony and Putin’s former boss. Earlier this year the Swiss authorities issued a warrant for Borodin’s arrest on allegations that he had laundered multi-million-dollar kickbacks in Swiss banks.