Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 213

The mysterious maneuverings surrounding the abortive “peace agreement” between Gazprom and Media-Most were yet another example of the degree to which high-level politics in Russia remain mired in intrigue. Indeed, various Russian observers over the last twenty-four hours–prior to Gazprom’s withdrawal from the “peace agreement”–speculated about why the Prosecutor General’s Office had issued an arrest warrant for Media-Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky just when Media-Most and Gazprom announced that they had reached an agreement to resolve their dispute over debts peacefully. On its face, the move was puzzling, given that the criminal investigation into alleged fraud by Gusinsky and Media-Most was originally based on a civil suit brought by Gazprom, which accused Media-Most of transferring assets abroad which it had put up as collateral for Gazprom-guaranteed loans. Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov later broadened the accusations against Gusinsky and his media holding, saying they had committed fraud simply by taking on loans worth more than their total assets (see the Monitor, November 13). Finally, yesterday, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a warrant for Gusinsky’s arrest on charges of large-scale fraud, even though Gazprom and Media-Most announced they had reached on understanding.

One newspaper today put forward four possible theories on what might be going on. According to the first, the contradictory moves vis-a-vis Media-Most reflect differences between various Kremlin factions. Thus the St. Petersburg “Chekists”–or KGB veterans–led by Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov–opposed any deals with Gusinsky and thus sabotaged the “peace agreement” between Media-Most and Gazprom by pushing the Prosecutor General’s Office to issue an arrest order for Gusinsky. The peace agreement, on the other hand, was supported by a rival faction–the “Family,” the Yeltsin-era insiders led by Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin. A second theory held that the arrest order for Gusinsky was issued as a way to pressure him into yielding his continued real control of Media-Most and NTV television, which the peace agreement would have allowed him to retain, at least temporarily. A third alternative held that the Prosecutor General’s Office issued the arrest warrant in revenge for accusations made by several Media-Most outlets, including NTV and the newspaper Segodnya, that Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov illegally received an apartment from former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin and failed to pay taxes on it. Finally, a fourth possibility had the arrest order as aimed at forcing Gusinsky into exile, where he will eventually lose his ability to control Media-Most and its media outlets, even if he manages to retain formal control over them (Moskovsky komsomolets, November 14).

None of these theories, of course, are mutually exclusive, but their proliferation show how observing Kremlin politics remains akin to watching bulldogs fighting under a carpet. Whatever the case, comments from the Prosecutor General’s Office today, after the collapse of the agreement between Media-Most and Gazprom, suggest that Kremlin “hardliners”–whoever they might be–acted deliberately to scuttle the agreement. Leonid Troshin, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, made it clear that his office would continue to investigate Gusinsky regardless of the fate of the agreement between his media holding and Gazprom. Troshin also noted that Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh was a witness in the criminal case against Gusinsky and might even be an “interested party” (Russian agencies, November 14).