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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PARTY LINES: Power Still a 'Family' Affair

A number of observers -- both local and Western, fans and foes of President Vladimir Putin - have taken at face value his promises to drive the oligarchs from the corridors of power and reassert the primacy of the state's interests over those of the Yeltsin-era tycoons. After the May 11 raid on Media-MOST's headquarters, some observers not only continued to believe Putin, but even saw the raid as validating his pledge.

That view was put forward by Stratfor, a U.S.-based private analytical group. It cast doubt on the assumption that the raid was carried out on behalf of Media-MOST chief Vladimir Gusinsky's main rival, Boris Berezovsky.

"Observers who believe Putin is in some way allied with or indebted to Berezovsky have already hinted that Putin is doing Berezovsky both a personal and professional favor, as Berezovsky owns several competing media companies," wrote Stratfor the day of the raid. "In order to prove he is prepared to systematically remove all of the oligarchs from powerful positions, Putin will next have to confront Berezovsky. Thus, in light of Putin's plan to use the secret services and tax police to wipe out the oligarchs, it becomes apparent that the raid on Gusinsky's companies was more than just a Kremlin attack on its political opponents."

Putin may, indeed, have a plan "to use the secret services and tax police to wipe out the oligarchs." But unless Stratfor has a Deep Throat in the Kremlin, this is simply a supposition. What is more, this week's events lent credence to the counter-supposition - that the raid was indeed both a "Kremlin attack on its political opponents" and, more importantly, a "favor" to Berezovsky.

The week's biggest eyebrow raiser in this regard was Putin's abortive attempt to appoint Dmitry Kozak, a long-time associate from St. Petersburg, as prosecutor general. On Tuesday, members of the Federation Council, who must approve such appointments, were so convinced Kozak was the choice, they openly discussed it with reporters. The next day, Putin proposed Vladimir Ustinov, the acting prosecutor general. According to several accounts, Ustinov's nomination was such a last-minute affair that Kremlin staffers failed properly to fill out Putin's official request to the Federation Council.

What happened? Well, according to the web site, Putin had already signed the documents for Kozak's appointment when he was visited by Kremlin administration chief Alexander Voloshin and - according to "some" of the web site's sources - Berezovsky. Putin was then "forced" to submit Ustinov's candidacy.

One swallow does not make a spring, but there has already been a flock. Just recall last September, when Nikolai Aksyonenko, then first deputy prime minister and railways minister, fired Dmitry Savelyev, head of the state oil pipeline company Transneft, while Putin, then prime minister, was abroad. Savelyev later charged that Sibneft director Roman Abramovich - like Berezovsky, Voloshin and Aksyonenko, part of the group of Kremlin insiders dubbed "the family" - had told him to step down "voluntarily" or face dire consequences. Putin has shrugged off questions regarding the Transneft controversy.

Aksyonenko, by the way, retained his railways minister post in the new Cabinet. Sibneft, meanwhile, has announced plans to set up an Internet oil-trading exchange in conjunction with, yes, Transneft and the Railways Ministry.

Then, of course, there was the takeover of the aluminum industry by Sibneft and Siberian Aluminum earlier this year - not exactly the actions of disheartened oligarchs preparing themselves for history's ash heap.

True, the new Cabinet has a few St. Petersburg "liberals," like Alexei Kudrin and German Gref. But look at the reputed "family" men in the new Cabinet - Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Justice Minister Yury Chaika, Aksyonenko. Meanwhile, Voloshin keeps the vital post of Kremlin chief of staff.

The biggest blunder made by Stratfor and others is their assumption that there is a battle raging between oligarchs trying to protect their own parochial interests and "statists," particularly from the special services. But who, exactly, is fighting for the "state's interests" in the abstract? Were there ever such people? What, for example, was the Soviet Communist Party? While it nationalized private property in the name of socialism, didn't it in reality privatize the state to pursue the interests of a nomenklatura at everyone else's expense?

And how does that differ from what is happening now?