What's the Scandal All About?

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Recently, something of a scandal erupted over a report published by the Council for National Strategy attacking the oligarchs.

The nongovernmental Council for National Strategy was set up last year and has in its ranks 23 "experts" from across the political spectrum: Iosif Diskin, Valery Khomyakov, Sergei Markov, Andrei Ryabov, Mark Urnov, Dmitry Oreshkin, Andrei Fyodorov, Valery Fyodorov, Leonid Smirnyagin, Vladimir Rubanov and others.

Chairman of the CNS is Stanislav Belkovsky, a figure that many link to the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Markov, on the other hand, is known as a staunch "Putinite" and one of the theoreticians of "managed democracy." Khomyakov is a member of the Union of Right Forces' political council; and Andrei Fyodorov is a statist linked in the past to former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi.

The CNS states in its report that representatives of big business are preparing "to transform the system of government in the country with the aim of achieving a 'personal' union of big business and the executive branch. In reality, the country is on the verge of a creeping oligarchic coup." The report adds that oligarchs' business and political activities are harmful to the state.

Some CNS experts immediately denied any involvement in the report. In particular, Urnov, head of the Expertiza foundation, demanded that Diskin, the main author of the report, be excluded from CNS along with CNS chairman Belkovsky, whom he accused of passing off the work of Diskin and some unknown co-authors as the collective work of CNS members. Urnov's demand was not met, and so he then announced that he was quitting himself.

In the report, Diskin puts forward a modified version of Boris Nemtsov's definition of the oligarchy as the "shadow government" of big business. However, his division of business magnates into two groups -- "dirty" and "clean" -- depending on whether they interfere in politics or not is rather subjective, to say the least. On the basis of whether they interfere in politics or not, Diskin divides up businessmen into "oligarchs" (Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Oleg Deripaska, Vladimir Potanin, Andrei Melnichenko) and "non-oligarchs" (Vladimir Yevtushenkov, Kakha Bendukidze, Oleg Kiselyov, Anatoly Karachinsky).

There are grounds for viewing the report as an attempt by an influential administrative-economic clan -- most probably the St. Petersburg chekists -- to undermine the old Kremlin Family. It can also be seen as attempt to weaken Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov: On the one hand, he and Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin are portrayed as creatures of the anti-state "oligarchs" (Khodorkovsky, Abramovich, Fridman et al.); on the other, efforts are made to sow suspicions that Kasyanov would happily sell the very same oligarchs down the river.

In October 2000, there was a similar provocation, but on that occasion it was directed against the St. Petersburg chekists. Rumors were constantly spread about the imminent appointment of then-Secretary of the Security Council Sergei Ivanov as prime minister in place of Kasyanov. As if in answer to the rumors, an article appeared in the Stringer newspaper titled "Anti-Putin -- the Need to Remove the President from Power Is Evident."

The article, citing an allegedly top secret document, described the steps that had to be taken. First, President Vladimir Putin would appoint an "Andropov figure" as prime minister; then he would voluntarily (a la Boris Yeltsin) appoint him as his successor. Under the pseudonyms "Anti-Putin," "successor" and "Andropov-2," the document was clearly referring to Ivanov.

It is unlikely that Putin actually believed the report was genuine and leaked from Ivanov's circle, but nonetheless Ivanov was appointed defense minister, and Kasyanov held on to his job as prime minister.

It is interesting that Khodorkovsky is mentioned in the lengthy CNS report 10 times and Yukos 25 times; Roman Abramovich and Sibneft come in second with nine and 22 mentions; Fridman and Potanin get four mentions apiece (Alfa Group 10, and Interros 2); Deripaska and Melnichenko get three mentions apiece (Base Element 5, MDM 1).

In other words, the report first and foremost targets Khodorkovsky and Abramovich. It is these two, according to Diskin, who are the insidious ring-leaders plotting against Putin. In fact, despite Diskin's statement to the contrary on a recent episode of "Itogi," Khodorkovsky has never admitted to funding the Communist Party (he declared that he would be financing the election campaigns of Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces). He said that one of his partners in Yukos was sympathetic to the Communists and would be supporting them out of his own pocket. Khodorkovsky was probably referring to Yukos shareholder and former head of the company's security department Alexei Kondaurov.

Others in the know say that he may have been referring to Yukos board chairman Sergei Muravlenko. Last year Muravlenko funded State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov's Rebirth of Russia party, but this would not necessarily exclude him from funding the Communists as well.

One of the most damning accusations leveled at Khodorkovsky in the report is the following:

"According to the plans of a key member of the ruling class, as early as 2004 a new government may be formed under the control of and accountable to the parliament. The front-runner to be prime minister of such a government, formed under a new constitution, is considered to be Mikhail Khodorkovsky."

Who stands to gain from such a provocation against the Yukos-Sibneft alliance? Both Khodorkovsky and Abramovich have plenty of enemies.

However, it is worth noting that LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov is not mentioned at all in the report. He appears neither in the list of "oligarch" nor "non-oligarch" businessmen and is not mentioned even once in the text of the report. The same goes for LUKoil.

The report (the file is 67 kilobytes) covers in some depth the topic of businessmen and their influence on politics. But an oil magnate, who shut down the opposition TV6 television station to his own detriment and to Putin's benefit -- does not seem to merit a single reference.

Alekperov is a direct competitor to Khodorkovsky and Abramovich. Could he be behind the Diskin report? Or maybe there are other reasons why Alekperov's name is omitted.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama think tank, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.