Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 22

Although Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has again denied having presidential ambitions (see the Monitor, February 1), he has nonetheless been putting allies in strategic positions within the government and state apparatus. Primakov not long ago managed to get Georgy Rapota, his former deputy in the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), appointed as head of Rosvooruzhenie, the state arms export organization. While other sectors of the Russian economy are virtually dead in the water, the export of arms remains a sure source of hard currency revenues. This makes Rosvooruzhenie a strategic asset, one which could be a source of financing for a potential presidential campaign. Primakov, apparently, was also behind the attempt get Yuri Kobaladze–head of the SVR’s public relations and mass media department and one of his old friends and allies–appointed as first deputy chairman of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK), which runs the RTR and Kultura television channels and Radio Russia (see the Monitor, January 21). Such media will play a crucial role in next year’s presidential elections. Primakov’s appointment did not work out, however: His candidate was reportedly shot down by the Kremlin administration. Kobaladze, though, was appointed deputy head of Itar-Tass, the state news agency.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is reportedly trying to engineer the appointment of another ally, Stanislav Assekritov, as minister for state property. That position was recently left open when Minister for State Property Farit Gazzizulin stepped down for health reasons. Aleksandr Braverman–leader of the Russian National Unity (RNE)–is temporarily filling the post. Braverman, like Gazzizulin, is associated with “reformers” such as Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s controversial privatization program. Despite the economic crisis and the virtual collapse of Russian privatization, the state property ministry is also a powerful financial lever. Assekritov, like First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, is a veteran of the Soviet Union’s economic decisionmaking apparatus (Itogi weekly news magazine, February 2).

Primakov may also be eyeing another Russian television station–Russian Public Television (ORT), which is 51-percent state owned but reportedly controlled by Boris Berezovsky, the “oligarch” who doubles as Commonwealth of Independent States executive secretary. On January 29 ORT, which is heavily in debt, was put in the hands of an outside manager appointed by the Moscow arbitration court. A final decision on whether ORT will be declared bankrupt is due in April. The outside manager was appointed to oversee ORT despite President Boris Yeltsin’s order of last week, in which the government is to lend the station some US$100 million. According to one report, Primakov’s government has been “actively” negotiating with Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, about financing ORT. Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev is reportedly prepared to do so but only if control of the station is not in Berezovsky’s hands (Vlast, February 2).

ORT general director Igor Shabdurasulov appeared on ORT’s main news program on January 29 and accused Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the Communist majority in the State Duma of moving against ORT to “limit the president’s influence on television, first of all on ORT, before parliamentary and presidential elections” (Moscow Times, January 30). On January 30, ORT news anchor Sergei Dorenko launched a blistering attack on Primakov reminiscent of his polemics directed at Anatoly Chubais and his allies back in 1997. At that time Berezovsky and Chubais went to war over the outcome of several big-ticket privatizations (ORT, January 30). One newspaper today reported that Berezovsky, upon hearing that ORT had been placed under outside management, released a stream of expletives. Primakov reportedly went “green with fury” on hearing Dorenko’s attack. The newspaper also reported that Berezovsky, during his recent trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the annual Russian investment conference, said that Primakov would probably be removed from his post. According to this account, Berezovsky quoted Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, as saying that as soon as “Papa” regains his strength, “he’ll show that Primakov” (Moskovsky komsomolets, February 2).