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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Warrants on Moguls Just Political Play




At first glance, the news Tuesday that arrest warrants had been issued for Boris Berezovsky and Alexander Smolensky seemed to constitute a momentous development. Both, after all, were members of the "Group of Seven" f the oligarchy of seven bankers which, in Berezovsky's telling, engineered Boris Yeltsin's re-election in 1996, when they claimed to control more than half of the Russian economy.


In reality, however, the move against the two tycoons is probably, as Berezovsky himself put it Tuesday, 100 percent about politics. What's more, it's politics as usual, which in Russia means clan warfare.


Berezovsky has been an irritant to Yevgeny Primakov's Cabinet with his criticism, and also became a liability for the Kremlin inner circle months ago. With so many enemies and so few friends, his demise has been long predicted f and the Kremlin probably assented to it, whatever President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman hints.


More intriguing is the attack on Smolensky. A one-time Kremlin loyalist f Yeltsin, during the 1996 campaign, even urged voters to put their savings in SBS-Agro f Smolensky had in recent times become a de facto subsidiary of the leftist Agrarian Party, represented in Primakov's Cabinet by Deputy Prime Minister Gennady Kulik (whose son sits on SBS-Agro's board of directors).


The friendly relations of late between Smolensky and the Primakov team f not only Kulik but also Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko, who has kept SBS-Agro alive with easy credits f suggest the attack on Smolensky could be another Kremlin slap against the White House.


So while the demise of Berezovsky may just be belated old news, the quieter decline of Smolensky looks like yet another attack by Yeltsin's Kremlin on Primakov's Cabinet. In fact, it could well be the prelude to the long-predicted ouster of Kulik and First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov f the Cabinet's two top leftists who are tarred with corruption allegations by the Yabloko party.


If Yeltsin were to fire Maslyukov or Kulik, Primakov has said he would quit. Were one, two or all three of those men replaced by anybody even remotely liberal, the West f including the International Monetary Fund f would go into paroxysms of relief.


But like the forced cheer and optimism of those who will see significance in the warrant for Berezovsky, it would be an artificial relief: Berezovsky is not the problem in Russia. Yeltsin is. It was not Berezovsky who decided that the federal budget, the oil firms, ORT and Aeroflot were all just feeding troughs where the impudent could pay to dine. It was the Kremlin. Arrest Berezovsky, fire a deputy prime minister or two f but Yeltsin and the system he has brought in remains.