Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 17

The Fight for Self-Preservation in the Kremlin

By Andrei Zhukov

The latest Kremlin battle is over… The outcome is clear: AnatolyChubais has decisively defeated all of his rivals, and remains(together with the premier, who prefers not to quarrel with him)the sole master of the Russian political Olympus. The underlyingeconomic cause of all this, it seems, is obvious. Not only theIMF, but the Moscow financial elite, and above all, its informalleaders Boris Berezovsky (the owner of the LogoVAZ concern, aco-owner of Russian Public Television, and recently, also thedeputy secretary of the Security Council) and Vladimir Gusinsky(the head of the "Most" group) guided Chubais’ hand.The interests of Aleksandr Korzhakov and Aleksandr Lebed cameinto conflict with those of these financial groups and the wholemight of the state machine came crashing down on their heads.

But this simplified scheme, based on financial considerationsalone, does not explain all of the various reversals of fortune.Here, it is purely personal interests which are in the forefront,the political (and sometimes — purely physical) survival of concretefigures. In other words, evolution’s "prime mover":self-preservation.

In order to understand what really happened at the top levelsof the Russian government in the last six months, one must returnto the beginning of the intrigue: to the presidential campaign.

Postponing the Elections: Was it a "Plot of the ForceMinisters"?

Now, after some time has passed, it is quite understandable whatmotivated General Korzhakov when he came out with his shockingopinion that the presidential elections needed to be postponed.Being at that moment the closest person to the president, Korzhakovunderstood quite well that the campaign could prove fatal to thepresident’s health. And although the wily bodyguard’s true goalswere far from humanitarian, the motive behind his statement reallywas concern for Yeltsin’s health, as a guarantee of stabilityfor himself personally, and for the team of "force ministers"which was in favor at the time.

At the same time, Chubais’ team of "liberals," whichwas represented in Yeltsin’s entourage only by First PresidentialAssistant Viktor Ilyushin, thirsted to demonstrate to Yeltsinits capabilities by organizing a brilliant victory for him froman initial rating of eight percent in the polls. Their motiveswere also transparent: the thunderous success of the campaignwould allow them to get closer to the president, edging out the"force ministers."

The liberals, by cleverness, flattery, promises, and intrigues,succeeded in drawing the very sick, but extremely proud and ambitiousleader into the exhausting race. The liquidation of Oleg Soskovets’campaign staff and its replacement with a staff consisting entirelyof Chubais’ and Ilyushin’s people, was their first victory. Now,it is understandable why the Public Movement to Support the President[ODOP], led by Sergei Filatov, created with the same goals inmind as the Chubais-Malashenko staff, was doomed to be pushedto the side, to be immediately forgotten after the campaign. Andit is just as obvious that an unenviable fate awaited the "forceministers."

The Fight for Access: Two Entrances and One Exit

When the campaign began, General Korzhakov had complete controlover who could see Yeltsin. To achieve their goals, Chubais’ groupneeded to find an reliable alternative method of gaining accessto the president. There was only one possibility: the only peoplein Yeltsin’s entourage not controlled by Korzhakov were the membersof his family — his wife and daughters.

Everyone was surprised when the president, in a campaign speech,asked the people whether it was a good idea to include membersof his family in the campaign. "Yes!!" the people shouted,joyfully… That was when Chubais was picked. By including thepresident’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, in the "PresidentHotel" campaign staff, Chubais had already won the battlewith Korzhakov. He got complete freedom to bring his thoughtsand opinions to Yeltsin’s attention, and to sway him in favorof certain decisions, through the person closest to Boris Nikolaevich– his daughter Tatyana. It is clear why Chubais needed her. Butwhy did she suddenly need to form an alliance with Chubais. Thiscannot be explained by just her sympathy for Anatoly Borisovich.Clearly there were other, purely personal, motives present here– her unquenched thirst for fame, for example… Earlier, IgorMalashenko and Vladimir Kiselev offered her a job hosting a programon the then-young NTV. And she even agreed. But her all-powerfulfather said no.

The Box Under the Xerox Machine as a Mirror of Revolution

Realizing too late that they had been defeated, the "forceministers" made one last desperate attempt to open the president’seyes to the kind of people that he had just favored with his trust.The arrest of Lisovsky and Evstafiev with a half a million dollarsin cash, intended to pay for the "free" "Vote orYou Lose!" concerts, should have forced the president totake a new look at his campaign staff. But it was already toolate. All Chubais had to do was to ask Tatyana to tell her fatherthat the result of the arrests would be a lack of money for theelections and their probable loss for Yeltsin’s feelings to beswayed in his favor. The choice was made. Chubais stayed, andKorzhakov was forced to resign in disgrace.

Being persuaded of the effectiveness of this kind of influenceon the president, Chubais continued to use it with success, consolidatinghis position as the "monopolist" of access to Yeltsin.It seemed that Chubais had achieved his goal: Yeltsin remainedpresident, and Chubais’ own influence (and consequently, his opportunityto work, behind Yeltsin’s back, for his own purposes), thanksto his friendship with Tatyana Borisovna, got stronger and stronger.But a serious additional factor interfered in the plans of thenew chief of presidential administration: the sharp decline inBoris Nikolaevich’s health, which occurred between the two roundsof the election. Chubais suddenly clearly realized that if Yeltsin’shealth did not permit him to exercise his powers, a new presidentwould knock him, Chubais, off of Russia’s political Olympus.

"Lebed is Yeltsin Today"*

So once again, Anatoly Borisovich had to look for a way to remainin place if Yeltsin left office. The first alternative examinedby Chubais while the campaign was still in full swing was to "replace"the sick Yeltsin with the healthy Lebed as a manageable, controllablefigure in the nation’s highest political post. It was this whichexplained the financial and organizational support which Chubaisoffered Lebed in the June elections. Chubais’ goal was to tiethe charismatic general to him as tightly as possible, to putLebed in his debt, and thereby guarantee himself a safe spot inthe Kremlin, no matter how Yeltsin’s illness turned out.

All the indications suggested that this plan would succeed: Lebedpublicly supported the course of reforms, the policy pursued byChernomyrdin and Chubais, expressed his willingness to work withinthe existing apparatus, and finally, received from the presidenta position as his assistant. Yeltsin, in turn, almost officiallyproclaimed Lebed as his successor and the "continuer"of his course in the 2000 elections.

But Chubais’ plans to make a "new Yeltsin" out of Lebedwere fated not to be realized. In "covering for" thepresidential chief of administration’s personnel purges (kickingout the "force ministers," disbanding the president’sanalytical office, replacing the last members of the "Ekaterinburgteam" in the Kremlin and Staraya Ploshchad with hisown people), and signing the Khasavyurt accords, so unfavorableto Russia (which, by the way, suited the general’s own plans toincrease his own popularity), under the conditions dictated tohim by Chubais, Lebed considered all his debts to Chubais to bepaid, and behaved in a completely unexpected way. He forged analliance with Korzhakov.

The Tandem of Generals

Gen. Korzhakov, removed from his posts as chief of the presidentialbodyguard, was working feverishly on his own campaign for theseat in the State Duma from Tula vacated by Lebed, and was speakingout in the media, threatening to expose the corruption of topofficials. For Korzhakov to win the immunity from prosecutionthat comes with being a deputy, he needed a popular leader to"bless" his candidacy. Gen. Lebed was the ideal manfor that.

At the same time, Korzhakov, who had lost his influence in theKremlin, nevertheless held on to his sources of money in the NationalSports Fund, making him an ideal source of alternative funding.

For Chubais, the alliance was a mortal threat, particularly ifYeltsin had to resign for health reasons. And the presidentialchief of administration’s retaliatory blows were not long in coming.The NTV and ORT television channels, under Chubais’ control, sharplychanged the tone of their coverage of Aleksandr Lebed’s activities,from exultation to deep alarm, and then launched into a "feedingfrenzy."

"Friendly Fire"

The situation around Lebed began to heat up and the scandal brokeat Minister of Internal Affairs Anatoly Kulikov’s press conferenceon October 16. From all indications, it was on this day that AnatolyChubais, who had hoped until the last moment that he would succeedin keeping Lebed in a more or less manageable condition, finallyparted with his hopes of working with him in the upcoming presidentialcampaign, and declared war on him. It is well known that two weeksbefore these stormy events, a decree removing Lebed had been prepared,and that Chubais tabled it. Now, the decree was given the greenlight.

Chubais’ goal obviously was to "knock the generals’ headstogether," tarring them both with the same brush. This isone of his favorite tactics. One may recall, for example, thesituation with the box underneath the Xerox machine, describedabove, in which half a million dollars was carried out of theWhite House. The removal of Korzhakov & Co. was successfully"transferred" by Chubais onto Lebed’s shoulders. Nowhistory was repeating itself — Chubais used Kulikov to removeLebed.

The goal of "setting Kulikov up" in this way was todiscredit the minister, who had hinted more than once that ifthere were early presidential elections, his sympathies wouldbe on the side of the most genuine and popular leader at thistime: Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. The simple-minded Kulikov tookthe bait which the wily Chubais threw him, and his speech wasa strange mix of real information and clearly false allegations(like the story about the "1500 Chechen fighters" whichMaskhadov had supposedly promised Lebed).

Thus, Kulikov, on one hand, disclosed certain activities and statementsof the ambitious Gen. Lebed, which served as the formal justificationfor the latter’s banishment, and on the other–provided a basisfor accusations of slander to be made against him.

Chubais and Chernomyrdin: Together or Apart?

After monopolizing both the official (through the decree regularizingthe flow of documents to be signed by the president) and unofficial(through the president’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko) means ofcontact with Boris Yeltsin, and getting the opportunity to giveany piece of information reaching the president the interpretationmost favorable to himself, Anatoly Borisovich has become virtuallythe only person in the country who has the right to make finaldecisions.

But there is still Chernomyrdin, who has been entrusted, bothby the constitution and by Yeltsin’s special decree, with thepower to be "acting president," if anything happens.Chubais, on the one hand, prefers not to quarrel with him, andon the other, if the rumors can be believed, is quietly preparinghis removal. The first step in this direction was the creationof the much-publicized Temporary Extraordinary Commission [VChK]on Taxes. It is said that if tax revenues do not go up significantly,that it will be seen as a failure "on Chernomyrdin’s watch."According to some information, if that happens, it would be Chubaiswho would be made temporary leader of the government.

Besides the aforementioned VChK, whose failure can easily be blamedon the prime minister, Chubais has another move in reserve, whichwould undermine the economic base for Chernomyrdin’s existenceas an independent political figure. Its essence is the possibleclaim that the all-powerful Gazprom is a monopolist on the Russianmarket. Existing anti-monopoly legislation gives at least formaljustification for the forced dismemberment of the empire of Chernomyrdinand Rem Vyakhirev into several gas companies, which would makeit far easier to fight with them.

Another alternative which is being openly prepared by Chubaisis to make an example of Gazprom, and the companies which makeit up, for their enormous tax debt (of 15 trillion rubles). Thewily "chief administrator," of course, will see to itthat the main initiator of the punishment of Gazprom is… [Chernomyrdin’s]government, in that way, causing a rift between the premier andhis main business partner and companion, Rem Vyakhirev. Such blowscould seriously diminish Chernomyrdin’s chances of becoming anindependent candidate for the presidential post, and force himto come to terms with Chubais. Or to fight him.

People Who Will Stop at Nothing?

All of the chain of events described above, from the moment ofthe president’s entry into the campaign to the most recent sensationalresignations in the Kremlin, produce, at first glance, the impressionof being extraordinarily complicated, the cleverly-constructedintrigues on the part of one group of people to seize power inthe country. But only at first glance. What if there were no "cleverintrigues," but, at each concrete moment, all of the personalitiesdescribed above were guided by simple self-preservation? Out ofthe instinct for self-preservation, the president’s entouragetalked an elderly, sick president into running again. Out of theinstinct for self-preservation, Viktor Chernomyrdin decided notto run for president. Out of the instinct for self-preservation,Anatoly Chubais and others with him began to "groom"Lebed, trying to make a charismatic, popular, and manageable leaderout of him, ready to replace Yeltsin in 2000.

The instinct of self-preservation (already, true, in relationto the members of his own family) forced Yeltsin to fire Korzhakovand his team, and forced the latter, in turn, to remain silentfor a long time, and "keep his nose out of what wasn’t hisbusiness." It was this all-powerful instinct which now forceshim to fight for a seat as deputy, and to come forward with sensationalrevelations now that all of his channels of direct communicationwith the president have been cut off forever.

It is the same instinct for self-preservation which then pushedLebed into supporting Korzhakov, and Chernomyrdin, into supportingChubais. What next? This same instinct could inevitably lead toa battle between the two actors left on the stage. And God grantthat this battle not lead to fighting on the streets as it didthat terrifying October of 1993. Because when people, who havepower in all its plenitude at their disposal, are guided exclusivelyby the instinct for self-preservation, they are ready to stopat nothing…


* An allusion to the old Soviet slogan that "Stalin is Lenintoday."

Translated by Mark Eckert