Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 119

Observers have continued speculating about precisely who was behind Gusinsky’s arrest. Last week, Putin denied having prior knowledge of the plans to arrest the media magnate, calling it a “dubious present” to him (see the Monitor, June 14). The newspaper Segodnya, which is part of the Media-Most holding, suggested this weekend that the head of state was in the dark–at least about the timing of the move against Gusinsky. The paper laid out one account, according to which the decision to arrest him was made by Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov and Mezhprombank chief Sergei Pugachev, whom the paper described as “a new member of the Family.” The “Family” refers to the group of Kremlin insiders which includes, among others, Voloshin, the tycoons Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, Boris Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and Pavel Borodin, the former head of the Kremlin’s “property department,” who became state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union earlier this year on Putin’s recommendation. The presidential administration reportedly called the country’s “power ministries”–presumably meaning Interior, Defense and the Federal Security Service, among others–to persuade them to support the move against Gusinsky publicly. The “power ministers,” however, apparently chose to distance themselves from the action prior to Putin’s return to Russia, Segodnya reported. The paper compared the Gusinsky incident to an earlier one, in which Voloshin reportedly countermanded Putin’s decision to appoint Dmitri Kozak as prosecutor general (see the Monitor, May 18-19, June 15). Segodnya then cut to the chase, alluding to rumors that have dogged Putin since his accession as head of state earlier this year. “It will be difficult for the president to distance himself from the Family, even if he wants to,” the paper wrote. “[Yeltsin’s] successor,” as [Kremlin political consultant] Gleb Pavlovsky asserted in one of his interviews, “was chosen carefully over a long period of time. [And] probably not only according to the principle of loyalty, but [of] … dependence. In what way does Putin depend on the Family? Is it possible that it even has kompromat on the president?”

The scandal surrounding Gusinsky’s arrest certainly did not seem to serve Putin’s direct interests, especially given that it took place during a trip abroad and put him in a very awkward position with his foreign counterparts. In addition, the scandal may have also undermined his position in domestic politics. Aleksei Arbatov, a leading member of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, said that the incident has significantly lessened the Kremlin’s chances of getting the 300 or more votes in the lower house of parliament necessary to overcome the veto which the Federation Council, the upper house, is likely to give Putin’s measures aimed at restricting the powers of the regions. Likewise, Oleg Morozov, head of the Russia’s Regions group in the Duma, said that the incident had made it less likely that Putin will be able to maintain a pro-presidential coalition in the Duma (NTV, June 18).

On the other hand, Gusinsky himself said in an interview that he believed Putin knew about the arrest plans in advance (Newsweek, June 18). In this regard, it is worth noting that “if-only-the-Tsar-knew” is a time-honored method Russian and Soviet leaders have employed to keep their fingerprints off particularly controversial decisions. Many observers believe that Putin used this method during the controversy earlier this year concerning the detention of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky.

Whatever the case, a report in a British newspaper last week would, if true, give credence to the speculation about Putin being a puppet of the Family. The paper reported that Putin, while still director of the Federal Security Service, was seen at a villa in Spain belonging to Boris Berezovsky. Spanish police reportedly spotted Putin by chance while carrying out surveillance on the neighboring villa, allegedly the property of a Russian mafia boss. The paper, citing Spanish police and British intelligence sources, said that Putin entered Spain on at least five occasions without clearing customs or immigration. The visits reportedly stopped after Putin became prime minister last year (Times [London], June 15).