Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 24

President Vladimir Putin (or at least his law enforcement agencies) struck new blows this past fortnight against the Russian leader’s main foes from the ancien regime–the oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky. Spanish police arrested Gusinsky, head of Russia’s largest private media group, at his luxury home on the Costa del Sol. The move apparently came as a surprise to Gusinsky, who told the arresting officers that he was a friend of Bill Clinton. The arrest certainly surprised many observers. Few had believed that any Western government would act on the warrant for the tycoon issued by Russian prosecutors: Gusinsky, after all, could credibly claim political persecution, given that his Media-Most group had become perhaps the last major forum for opposing Kremlin policies. Yet the Spanish law enforcement authorities were apparently convinced by their Russian colleagues’ case against Gusinsky, which involved charges that he had committed fraud in taking out US$300 million in loans for Media-Most from the Gazprom natural gas monopoly. Neither Moscow nor Madrid seemed to care that Media-Most and Gazprom had already settled their differences. Some within Media-Most even hinted darkly that the Russian and Spanish authorities had cut a deal at Gusinsky’s expense, noting that Igor Ivanov, Russia’s foreign minister, had worked in Madrid for years as a diplomat. Whatever the case, the Spanish authorities, despite criticism over the arrest from the World Jewish Congress and the U.S. State Department, seemed bent on fulfilling Moscow’s request for the dissident media baron’s extradition.

The blow against Boris Berezovsky was, not surprisingly, less severe and less direct, but a blow nonetheless. Prosecutors arrested a long-time Berezovsky associate, Nikolai Glushkov, while questioning him about his alleged role in misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars from the state airline Aeroflot. Glushkov had not helped his case by suggesting to the Berezovsky-controlled newspaper Kommersant back in November that, prior to his appointment as an Aeroflot deputy head back in 1995, Federal Security Service (FSB) and Foreign Intelligence Service officers working for the airline had massively looted its coffers. Whether or not Glushkov’s claim was true, it amounted to throwing down a gauntlet to the FSB veterans who have become omnipresent in the Kremlin corridors thanks to the efforts of their comrade-in-arms, Vladimir Putin. Not surprisingly, Glushkov found himself incarcerated in Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo prison, currently under FSB management.