Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 183

The war in Chechnya has, for the most part, pushed other conflicts off the front pages of Russian newspapers. Nevertheless, the war of “kompromat” (compromising materials) between Moscow’s rival financial-political groups continues to rage. On October 4, Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned station said to be controlled by the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, launched a blistering attack on Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. In that broadcast, ORT accused Luzhkov and his wife Yelena Baturina of corruption, including involvement in the Mabetex case, which alleges kickbacks from a Swiss construction firm to various top Russian officials, Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin among them (ORT, October 3).

Luzhkov’s reaction came in an interview published yesterday, in which he said that he has “calmly endured” attacks in the media, which he described as “nonsense which goes beyond Goebbels-like propaganda tricks.” The Moscow mayor said that he was “hate figure number one” for the Kremlin. He then accused the executive branch of acting unconstitutionally in such actions as suspending Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov. Luzhkov charged that ORT, along with RTR state television, was preventing Russians from “expressing their will freely.” Luzhkov said it was “absurd” and “simply inadmissible” that Berezovsky was in effect “steering” Russia’s political process (Komsomolskaya pravda, October 4).

Meanwhile, the weekly newspaper Versiya–whose editor-in-chief, Artem Borovik, is allied with Fatherland-All Russia, the political coalition headed by Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov–led this week’s edition with an article devoted to Aleksandr Mamut, a top executive in Sobibank and MDM-Bank and the head of a number of companies. Mamut is also, according to the weekly, a close associate of Roman Abramovich, head of the Sibneft oil company and a key Kremlin insider.

Versiya alleged, among other things, that Mamut conspired with Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in a scheme involving debt obligations to Russia. According to the paper, Kasyanov would initiate rumors that certain countries indebted to Russia were unable to pay. The price of those countries’ obligations on the debt market would then drop precipitously. MDM-Bank and Sobibank would then buy them up. Finally, Kasyanov would announce that the problems with the debtors had been worked out. A sharp rise in the debt’s market value would then follow. Versiya claimed that Kasyanov received a 2-percent commission from such operations (and allegedly became known as “Misha 2-Percent”) and that the profits made by Kasyanov, Mamut and Abramovich from such operations were deposited in MDM-Bank’s and Sobibank’s correspondent accounts in the Bank of New York (Versiya, October 5).