Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 98

The Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, yesterday gave its approval to Vladimir Ustinov, President Vladimir Putin’s choice for the post of Prosecutor General. The council voted 114 to 10 in favor of Ustinov, who has been serving as acting Prosecutor General since last August (Russian agencies, May 17). What was interesting about Ustinov’s nomination is that until literally the last minute, the Federation Council, along with Moscow’s media and rumor mill, were convinced that Putin would nominate Dmitri Kozak, a long-time associate of the president from St. Petersburg and acting chief of staff of the cabinet, for the post.

The newspaper Segodnya, citing anonymous sources, reported today that Putin planned to put Kozak forward as his nominee for the post, but was overruled by Aleksandr Voloshin, head of the Kremlin administration. According to the paper, Voloshin, who is widely seen as being close to the tycoon Boris Berezovsky and other members of the “Family”–former President Boris Yeltsin’s powerful inner circle–could not trust Kozak to ensure that high-level corruption cases, including the Mabetex and Aeroflot cases, were put on the back-burner or closed down altogether (Segodnya, May 18). Ustinov was named last August to replace Yuri Chaika as acting prosecutor general after Chaika reportedly approved the resumption of an investigation into Andava, the Swiss firm reportedly controlled by Berezovsky which was allegedly used as a conduit for hundreds of million of dollars from the state airline Aeroflot (see the Monitor, July 30, 1999). According to Segodnya, the Prosecutor General’s Office is about to pull the plug on the Mabetex case, involving the alleged payment of bribes to top Russian officials by a Swiss construction-engineering firm in return for lucrative Russian government refurbishment contracts (Segodnya, May 12, 18).

Segodnya, it should be noted, is part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most empire, whose headquarters were raided and searched by armed government agents on May 11. It has long alleged that the “Family” controls the main political processes in Russia. But while it may have reason to cast aspersions on the Kremlin, if its report on the abortive nomination of Kozak is true, it would raise real questions about whether Vladimir Putin is an independent actor.