Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 145

In fact, Media Most has received credits from the state’s Sberbank, Vneshtorgbank and Vneshekonombank, and has reportedly angered the Kremlin by demanding that it be allowed to pay off its debts in the form of state bonds (Vlast, July 27). But the battle undoubtedly has less to do with money than with the desire of the Kremlin inner circle to ensure that the country’s main media is pulling for its candidates in this year’s parliamentary election and, more important, next year’s presidential vote. Against this backdrop, Voloshin can be seen as representing the interests of the Kremlin “family,” particularly the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who has openly declared that a Luzhkov presidency would lead to “bloodshed.” The Federal Security Service, meanwhile, has been investigating a business run by Luzhkov’s wife, as part of a broader probe into illegal capital flight. The pro-Luzhkov press has been answering in kind. The latest issue of the weekly “Versia” includes an article claiming that Voloshin’s 23-year-old son was involved in an Internet scam involving stolen credit card numbers. The front page article was headlined “Voloshin–the education of a swindler” (Versia, July 27).

“Moskovsky komsomolets,” which is also faithfully pro-Luzhkov in its reporting, today published what it claimed was the transcript of a recent telephone conversation between Berezovsky and Valentin Yumashev, the former Kremlin chief of staff who remains both a presidential adviser and an influential member of the inner circle. In it, Yumashev informs Berezovsky that acting Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has signed off on continuing his office’s investigation of Andava, the Swiss firm reportedly controlled by Berezovsky, into which hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues from the state airline Aeroflot were allegedly funneled. Berezovsky is extremely agitated by this news, and tries to convince Yumashev to engineer Chaika’s “voluntary” resignation (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 28).

On July 23, Chaika went on a fifteen-day leave, and a number of media have speculated that he will be replaced by Vladimir Ustinov, the deputy prosecutor general in charge of the North Caucasus Region, whom the Kremlin inner circle is said to trust (see the Monitor, July 21). This trust is somewhat ironic, given that Chaika was also seen as being loyal to the Kremlin inner circle after he was named to fill in for suspended Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov.

The level of intrigue and amount of “kompromat” (compromising materials) in the Russian media is extremely high, given that the electoral season will officially get started only next month. This suggests that the campaigns for parliament and the presidency will set records for sleaziness. On the other hand, Boris Yeltsin may soon decide that it is time put a stop to the mud-slinging. Yeltsin has traditionally divided and ruled the Russian political elite, playing one clan off against the other and then stepping in as arbiter. He did so during the 1997 battle of the oligarchs, which pitted the group headed by Berezovsky and that headed by Anatoly Chubais, and centered around disputed privatization auctions. Yeltsin may do the same in the battle between his inner circle and the Most-Luzhkov grouping. And it may be that he does not share his inner circle’s apparent goal of destroying Luzhkov politically. As one commentator noted today, Yeltsin needs the Moscow mayor’s “loyalty,” not his “liquidation” (Komsomolskaya pravda, July 28). On the other hand, Yeltsin’s efforts to mediate the war within the elite in 1997 was not particularly successful: The various financial-political clans have been battling virtually without a break since that time.