accused Gusinsky and Media-Most of having borrowed more than $400 million from Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly, even though the media holding was essentially bankrupt, with its assets worth less than the loans. In their apparent zeal to see Gusinsky behind bars–or, at any rate, in exile–the law enforcement authorities almost brushed aside the fact that Gazprom, the aggrieved party, had reached an agreement with Media-Most on paying off the debts. In fact, a number of observers believed that the arrest warrant was aimed at derailing the “peace agreement” between Gazprom and Media-Most. If that was the goal, the strategy worked: Immediately after the arrest warrant for Gusinsky was issued, Gazprom renounced its agreement with Media-Most a mere three days after having signed it.
The fact that Gusinsky had now become, in essence, a fugitive and an exile was not a big surprise. He had, after all, been jailed briefly back in June in connection with another corruption case, was spending more and more time out of Russia and had already ignored several subsequent summons. Berezovsky’s reaction to his summons, however, was more of a surprise. Back in October, he, unlike Gusinsky, had voluntarily appeared for an “informal” chat with prosecutors about the Aeroflot case, involving charges that several Swiss firms connected to Berezovsky had embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from Russia’s state airline. Once formally summoned, however, Berezovsky’s equanimity seemed to crack. On the eve of his interrogation, the once all-powerful oligarch, who by many accounts played a significant role in Putin’s rise to power, issued a statement from abroad announcing that he would not return to Russia for questioning. The authorities, he stated–and Putin personally–were presenting him with the choice of becoming a “political prisoner or a political emigre.” Berezovsky, who until recently reportedly controlled ORT, Russia’s main television channel, even claimed that profits from the Swiss companies connected to Aeroflot were used to finance Putin’s presidential campaign and Unity, the pro-Putin political party. The tycoon may have been hinting that he had “kompromat”–compromising material–on his erstwhile ally, and he openly predicted that Putin would not serve out his “first constitutional term” in office. The president and his team, however, apparently calculated they could handle anything Berezovsky had in his files.