Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 142

The battle between the camp of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the Kremlin continued yesterday, when some 100 demonstrators gathered in downtown Moscow to protest the alleged role Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and the tycoon Boris Berezovsky played in setting up the All Russian Automobile Alliance (AVVA). AVVA was a consortium created in the early 1990s, ostensibly to build a “people’s automobile” for Russia, and sold shares. According to critics, AVVA, which never realized its auto-producing project, was in fact a pyramid scheme and its many thousands of shareholders were cheated of their investments.

Yesterday’s demonstration, which took place outside the Moscow headquarters of LogoVAZ, the car dealership founded by Berezovsky, followed NTV television’s July 18 airing of the accusations concerning Voloshin’s alleged participation in AVVA and other alleged pyramid schemes. NTV, which is part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media Most empire, has been generally critical of the Kremlin of late while giving ample time and a positive spin to its coverage of Luzhkov. Meanwhile, the anti-Voloshin demonstrators yesterday looked suspiciously like a rent-a-crowd: Their placards were obviously printed en masse and, according to a newspaper report today, a number of the demonstrators admitted they had not been AVVA shareholders and knew little about the controversy (Moscow Times, July 23). NTV reported yesterday evening that, as a result of its coverage of the anti-AVVA/Voloshin/Berezovsky demonstration yesterday, Voloshin had ordered his subordinates in the presidential administration to engineer an investigation of NTV and Gusinsky for alleged tax evasion (NTV, July 23). Earlier this week, the tax police reportedly visited the offices of Seven Days, Gusinsky’s publishing house, which produces Segodnya newspaper and Itogi magazine, among others (see the Monitor, July 20).

Over the past week or so, NTV and Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned channel reportedly controlled by Berezovsky, have been flinging dirt at each other. In addition, both Luzhkov and NTV have accused the Kremlin of instigating a Federal Security Service investigation into a business run by Luzhkov’s wife and thus using law enforcement to persecute political rivals.

Yesterday Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said that he understood Luzhkov “as a man who is defending his wife,” but called the mayor’s attacks on the Kremlin and the security organs “absolutely wrong.” Stepashin also attacked Luzhkov for allegedly calling for the “overthrow” of the authorities (Russian agencies, July 23). In fact, Luzhkov stressed in an interview on July 18 that he believed that the current Kremlin inhabitants should be removed through elections and that President Boris Yeltsin should be given immunity from criminal prosecution (NTV, July 18). In response to Stepashin’s comments yesterday, Luzhkov said he regretted that Stepashin had not first checked the legality of the FSB’s actions in investigating his (Luzhkov’s) wife, and described the investigations as a “crude” violation of the law. “I would not be surprised if they get at my children, the youngest of whom are five and seven,” Luzhkov added (Russian agencies, July 22).

There is little doubt that Luzhkov and his allies are using the controversy to try to package the Moscow mayor, widely assumed to be a major contender in next year’s presidential elections, as an underdog battling a corrupt Kremlin for the sake of good government and democracy. Whether the electorate will buy this image remains to be seen.