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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aksyonenko Once Again On the Move for Power




Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko once defined his portfolio in the simplest of terms. Asked what he would control, he answered, "Everything."


Aksyonenko, who was given control over the so-called "real" or industrial sector, hasn't quite achieved that since his appointment in May. But his bold moves over the past week to expand his reach and get control of the government's oil transport and telephone monopolies showed that his appetite for power - and the cash flows that go with it - hasn't abated one bit.


When Dmitry Savelyev, the head of oil-pipeline concern Transneft, refused to vacate his office, riot police showed up Sept. 16 and simply cut open the door with chain saws. Aksyonenko, in the absence of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, had taken it upon himself to sign an order dumping Savelyev.


Savelyev was replaced with Semyon Vainshtok, a former LUKoil executive, as Aksyonenko appeared to team up in an alliance of convenience with LUKoil. LUKoil gains a friend at Transneft, which controls the transport network that enables producers to export.


On Tuesday, the board of Svyazinvest, which holds stakes in regional phone companies across Russia, voted to dismiss general director Oleg Belov and appoint Valery Yashin at an Oct. 21 shareholders meeting. Since 75 percent of shares are in government hands, Belov's departure seems a done deal.


These coups at two of Russia's biggest enterprises were widely taken as a sign that Aksyonenko was back on the move, after a period of inactivity during which there was even speculation he might be fired in a Cabinet shake-up.


Aksyonenko is considered the chief political representative of "the family" - a group consisting of Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, his chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, and tycoons Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich.


As presidential and parliamentary elections approach, this group of Kremlin insiders is trying to gather as many of the reins of power as they can - especially large state enterprises, whose cash flows and affiliated news media can be invaluable political assets.


The ambitious deputy prime minister is sparring with other Cabinet factions. When Putin became prime minister last month, he tried to restore the balance between several fighting camps. He tried to offset Aksyonenko's influence by reducing him to the same level as the other deputy prime minister, Viktor Khristenko, who is believed to enjoy the support of another Kremlin insider, Anatoly Chubais, head of national electric utility Unified Energy Systems.


After intervention in Transneft and Svyazinvest, Aksyonenko may be on the verge of overreaching himself, political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky said. The war in Dagestan makes Putin, a former top security official, more valuable to Yeltsin, he said.


"I would not put bets on Aksyonenko," said Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Studies. "After Moscow started bombing Chechnya, Putin became simply indispensable."


The prime minister may find allies in the leftist-dominated State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to rein in his unruly deputy, where the installation of Vainshtok was unpopular. The Duma is considering a resolution urging the government to reconsider the Transneft case, saying that a board vote was needed.


"This is the start of a gangster redistribution of wealth that belongs to the government," said Deputy Pavel Bunich, head of the Duma property committee.


Khristenko is needed to conduct negotiations with foreign creditors to restructure foreign debts. If he accomplishes that task, he may be seen as superfluous by Yeltsin.