Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 25

Russian media continues to speculate on the February 2 Sibneft raid, the question of whether it was linked to Skuratov’s apparently forced resignation and the larger implications of both events. Most media have ruled out the Kremlin’s explanations for Skuratov’s departure. Officially, the Kremlin says he stepped down for health reasons. Off the record, Kremlin officials have said that Yeltsin thought that Skuratov was not energetic enough in combating political extremism and solving high-profile murders and other crimes, such as last November’s murder of State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova. Yeltsin has promised that the killers of Starovoitova and other public figures, such as television journalist Vyadeslav Listiev, will be brought to justice. Several among the media noted that Skuratov never complained of health problems. Others noted that the Prosecutor General’s Office under Skuratov made arrests in two high-profile cases–the 1994 murder of “Moskvy komsomolets” [M-K] journalist Dmitri Kholodov and the 1996 bombing at a Moscow cemetery, which killed fourteen people.

M-K, which reported on February 3 that Skuratov was fired for opposing the raid on the offices of Sibneft and Atoll, today reversed itself, saying that Skuratov had signed off on the searches, and was removed for that reason. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov put forward a similar version, saying that Skuratov was probably removed by those who were behind the spying on the First Family–meaning, of course, Berezovsky and his allies. “Komsomolskaya pravda” today put forward six possible versions. According to one, Skuratov did indeed sanction the raids on Sibneft and Atoll. But, while the Kremlin was clearly unhappy with the fact that a Berezovsky-controlled structure had been spying on the president’s family, it needs Russian Public Television, which Berezovsky controls. According to this version, “the president trusts [Berezovsky] more than the communists,” and was extremely disturbed by Skuratov’s contacts with Viktor Ilyukhin, the Communist hardliner who heads the Duma’s security committee (Komsomolskaya pravda, February 4).

According to yet another version, Skuratov was removed due to the results of his office’s investigation into the role the Central Bank played in last August’s financial collapse. Skuratov’s investigators reportedly found that top Central Bank officials had “actively played on the market of GKOs”–Russia’s now-defunct Treasury bills–and had “transferred into the hands of unknown offshore companies in the Bahamas management control over all of the Russian state’s hard-currency reserves” (Tribuna, February 4). “Komsomolskaya pravda” also said it was possible that the investigation into the Central Bank caused Skuratov’s downfall. It reported that Viktor Gerashchenko, who now heads the Central Bank, has prevented the results of the investigation from going public, because both he and Yeltsin do not want a scandal to erupt while Russia is trying to win new aid from the IMF (Komsomolskaya pravda, February 4).