Yesterday, an analysis by the Interfax news agency stated that President Boris Yeltsin really wanted Viktor Chernomyrdin, his special envoy on the Balkans crisis and a former prime minister, to again head the Russian cabinet. In this “version,” the Kremlin was deliberately trying to undermine Stepashin’s chances for confirmation so that it could put forward Nikolai Aksenenko, the railroads minister who was named a first deputy prime minister last week. The Kremlin knows, however, that Aksenenko, widely reported to be an ally of the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, would never pass the Duma. This, according to the account, is what the Kremlin really wanted: After Aksenenko was rejected, the Kremlin would put forward Chernomyrdin (Russian agencies, May 18).
It is likely that this report was an attempt by those opposed to Berezovsky’s ambitions to prevent him from exerting control over the new cabinet or stacking it with people of his choice. It is also possible that some members of Yeltsin’s inner circle were hoping to scuttle the Stepashin nomination and put Aksenenko or Chernomyrdin in as cabinet chief. Some Russian media have reported that a fierce under-the-carpet battle is raging between the “clan” headed by Berezovsky and that headed by Anatoly Chubais over nominations both to the new cabinet and within the Kremlin administration (see the Monitor, May 18). In previous such battles, Berezovsky backed Chernomyrdin, and that might be the case this time. In any event, the rumors, apparently, forced Berezovsky to state publicly that he was not trying to shape the new cabinet, calling such reports a “provocation” by his enemies–meaning, presumably, the communists and their allies in Russia’s special services.
Meanwhile, Russian media reported today that Berezovsky–whose business empire was the target of criminal investigations earlier this year, reportedly with the tacit approval of then Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov–has been working with Lev Chorny–head of the Trans World Group, the metals company which reportedly controls a significant chunk of Russia’s aluminum industry–to put people into high posts and create a political bloc in the next Duma. The paper, citing information from the Russian Interior Ministry’s main anti-organized crime directorate, claimed that Chorny had promised Berezovsky US$100 million to organize a parliamentary faction which “would represent the interests of the former oligarchs,” and was already paying each of Berezovsky’s media holdings, which are in bad financial shape, US$500,000 a month. The report also said that the two wanted to get Dmitri Bosov, the head of Trans World’s Moscow office, into the new cabinet, and that Bosov had been introduced to Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter and image adviser, and former Kremlin chief of staff Valentin Yumashev, in France. The paper quoted both Chorny and Bosov as denying these reports categorically (Kommersant, May 19).
Trans World reportedly controls the Krasnoyarsk aluminum factory in partnership with Anatoly Bykov, the main enemy of Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed. Bykov has recently been investigated by the Interior Ministry, which has launched fifty-eight criminal cases involving Krasnoyarsk businesses. It should be noted that the Kommersant report concerning the alleged Berezovsky-Trans World ties was based on Interior Ministry information, and that Sergei Stepashin, until today, was serving as Russia’s interior minister.
INCONCLUSIVE END TO RUSSIAN-U.S. TALKS IN HELSINKI.