Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 23

The raid on Sibneft would appear to be the latest blow against Berezovsky’s shadow empire. Last month, Berezovsky’s automobile company, LogoVAZ, was struck from the list of shareholders of Transaero, in which it held a 12.3 percent stake. Other firms reportedly owned by Berezovsky control another 32.7 percent stake (Moscow Times, February 3). On January 29, Russian Public Television, another company Berezovsky reportedly controls, was placed under outside management on the orders of the Moscow Arbitration Court. The company’s head and one of its anchors charged, on the air, that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov were behind the move. Luzhkov has quarreled with Berezovsky for a long time, and Primakov has done so in recent days: Berezovsky publicly attacked both Primakov’s floated plan for political stability and his announcement of prisoner amnesty to make room in Russia’s jails for corrupt officials.

It is not clear exactly what the dynamic is in Yeltsin’s inner circle–specifically, what hold Berezovsky may have over it. Thus, according to another “version” of events which appeared in today’s “Kommersant daily,” Skuratov was forced to resign after sanctioning the Sibneft raid. According to this version, those who would have opposed the raid–meaning, presumably, Berezovsky–were caught off guard and unable to prevent it, but were able to secure Skuratov’s removal (Kommersant daily, February 3). There are many others in Russia’s political and business elite who may have had an interest in Skuratov’s removal. His office, for example, was investigating possible criminal wrongdoing by Central Bank officials connected with last August’s ruble crash. Last November, his office detained a top executive in Vladimir Potanin’s Interros empire in connection with the alleged rigged privatization and embezzlement of a metals plant in 1994. More recently, Skuratov asked the government to reverse the December 1996 auction of 8.49 percent of Unified Energy Systems. This, as a newspaper noted, “amounted to an attack” on Gazprom and Potanin’s Oneximbank, which were involved in the auction, as well as “the entire national privatization program” (Moscow Times, February 3).

Not surprisingly, several top communists defended Skuratov yesterday. Viktor Ilyukhin, head of the Duma’s security committee, suggested that Skuratov may have been removed for his plan to bring corruption charges against former heads of regional administrations. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said that Skuratov’s resignation was part of a Kremlin administration plan to “paralyze the prosecutor’s office” and hold up investigations (Russian agencies, February 2).