It must have been the German press’s lucky month for Russia-related leaks. The daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau published an article detailing how managers at Gazprom, Russia’s the 38-percent state-owned natural gas monopoly–including its CEO, Rem Vyakhirev–used shell companies to funnel money and assets from the gas giant into the pockets of family members. The paper’s allegations came on the heels of others, including a claim by Boris Federov, the former finance minister who now heads a financial group and sits on Gazprom board, that $2 billion to $3 billion had been disappearing from Gazprom each year as a result of “corruption, nepotism and simple theft.” Federov and others have repeatedly accused Gazprom’s management of stripping assets from the company in favor of Itera, a company allegedly closely tied to Gazprom’s managers. According to still another media report, Vyakhirev even has a particular type of grass regularly flown in from Russia’s Far North to Moscow to feed his pet reindeer.
The significance of the dirt on Vyakhirev & Co. is that it came to light just before Gazprom’s annual board meeting, set for May 30. In addition, the Russian Federal Securities Commission has decided to delay renewing an agreement by which Vyakhirev is allowed to hold the state’s 38-percent share in trust–something it has renewed almost automatically each year since the mid-1990s. All of which suggested that somebody in high places (i.e., the Kremlin) no longer trusts Vyakhirev. Indeed, the presidential administration has reportedly “recommended” to Gazprom board members, including its chairman Dmitry Medvedev–who also happens to be a deputy Kremlin administration chief–that they vote against renewing Vyakhirev’s contract as CEO, which runs out on May 31. Last month, some Russian media suggested that Gazprom’s takeover and political neutralization of NTV, Vladimir Gusinsky’s opposition television channel, had won the gas giant’s management another reprieve from a Kremlin-led housecleaning. If so, the Kremlin’s gratitude seems to have worn off quickly.
The Moscow rumor mill has repeatedly named Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin as Vyakhirev’s possible successor. Like Vyakhirev, Voloshin has been the object of unwanted press attention as of late–specifically, the publication a transcript of conversations apparently taped off of Voloshin’s office telephone. While the transcripts contained nothing particularly damaging to Voloshin, some observers saw the very fact of their publication as a sign that his political position has become precarious. Some observers predict that Voloshin, should he be moved over into Vyakhirev’s seat, will be replaced as Kremlin chief of staff by either Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu or one of Putin’s seven envoys to the country’s federal districts.