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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grudge Match Pits Chubais Against Duma

The State Duma gave perhaps its most-hated enemy, Anatoly Chubais, a raucous and sometimes off-color roasting Wednesday as he defended his performance in his new job as head of the national electrical utility.

The Communists, who dominate the often-unruly lower house of parliament, blame Chubais for the privatization of the nation's mineral and oil wealth to politically connected insiders. The tone Wednesday was ugly, and the deputies abused Chubais so long they ran out of time and had to put off a vote on a resolution calling for his removal.

"Old love never fades," Chubais said, tongue in cheek, on his way out.

The deputies minced no words.

"You and your people have quite simply robbed the entire nation," spluttered Georgy Tikhonov, from the Communist-allied Popular Rule group. "You ought to step down now before we set the prosecutor's office on you."

Anatoly Chekhoyev, a Communist deputy, told the Duma he was sure everyone knew what the word "Chubais" meant to Russians. "But even more pertinent to today's debate is what the word 'Chubais' means in Eskimo," he said.

To the disappointment of the Duma, however, deputy speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, presiding over the session, cut Chekhoyev off before he could reveal the word's Eskimo origins. "I must ask deputies to stick to the resolution in hand," Ryzhkov warned.

All 272 deputies present voted in principle to pass a resolution "On Urgent Measures to Ensure Reliable Power Supplies in the Autumn and Winter Period of 1998-1999." A final vote will have to wait, however.

The resolution urges the government to appoint more experienced personnel to the board of UES, where Chubais is chairman, and to prevent "non-professionals" from gaining positions of power in the power industry. Discussion of the intricacies of the resolution will continue Friday.

"Chubais has wrecked all of the country's property," Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov said Tuesday. "Now he has savaged the energy industry, already managing to bankrupt several major power systems and leaving entire areas without light or heat."

Others were less critical of Chubais, although they recognized the need for the government to take urgent steps to fortify the country's power system.

"Of course, it is essential to strengthen RAO UES, but where is the money for the process going to come from?" Sergei Sigarev from the Liberal Democratic Party wanted to know. "There is only as much [urine] as there is beer, as they say."

Chubais, not known for meekness, did not respond to the catcalls but stuck to his report. He conceded that there was indeed a problem with supplies of fuel - used to fire the electrical generating plants - and suggested measures to overcome the difficulties.

"I would like to recommend to the State Duma that they consider two large-scale issues," he said. "The first is the introduction of a ban on oil delivery to countries who do not pay up front and the second is the introduction of increased export taxes for crude oil."

He said that this year, CIS countries alone owed Russia $640 billion for fuel. He added that Russian oil exports increased in November by a million tons, or 15 percent, compared to the previous month - which could have kept the domestic electrical system working.

Power plants in the Far East, including the Khabarovsk, Chita, Chukotka and Primorye regions, have suffered serious fuel shortages this winter.

Chubais sprang to prominence at the beginning of the 1990s as the architect of privatization. He has served in the Cabinet, as Kremlin chief of staff and in President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 re-election campaign.

He was fired as first deputy prime minister in a government reshuffle in March, but took over UES and at the same time served as foreign debt negotiator from June to August.

Later Wednesday, Chubais got a dig of his own in during an appearance on NTV's "Geroi Dnya" program. When he was asked whether he was aware that several Duma deputies were considering going on hunger strike until he resigned from UES, Chubais was not sympathetic.

"Judging by the girth on some of those deputies, it would do them good to lose some weight," he said.