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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kasyanov: 'Deep Concern' Over Yukos

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov criticized the freezing of a large block of shares in the Yukos oil company, saying he was "deeply concerned."

His statement Friday, which followed a warning from President Vladimir Putin against ministerial meddling in the case, verged on open defiance and exposed deepening rifts in the Kremlin.

Kasyanov is widely considered the most prominent remaining pro-business official in Putin's government, and his remarks made clear that a free-market faction is arrayed against the siloviki, or officials drawn from the security forces who favor a stronger role for the state over business.

The startling decision by prosecutors to freeze 44 percent of Yukos' shares on Thursday sent a shudder through Russia's business and political elites.

Kasyanov, attuned to Russia's need for growth and foreign investment, was openly nervous.

"The arrest of shares of a private company traded on the market is a new phenomenon, the consequences of which are hard to define, since it is a new form of influence,'' he said, according to Interfax.

"I will refrain from estimating" the ramifications, he added, "but I am deeply concerned."

Yukos had been in talks with ExxonMobil and other major Western oil companies for a possible alliance or merger.

Thus, said Anatoly Chubais, the head of Unified Energy Systems, freezing nearly half the shares had exposed how the authorities are changing political course.

"The reaction of business to the position of the president on the Yukos case was painful,'" he told Ren TV.

Asked about possible new attacks, Chubais said he would work "to prevent further arrests.''

Speculation grew on Saturday that Kasyanov would be the next casualty of the crisis surrounding Yukos, Reuters reported.

"There can be only one explanation for this: Kasyanov is being prepared for his removal or already knows about it," said the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

"It seems that Kasyanov is preparing himself for the end," said Mark Urnov, a Kremlin insider in the 1990s and political analyst with the Fond Analitika think tank.

Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst, said Putin could be nervous about sacking Kasyanov, since this could risk making him a figurehead for the opposition to the siloviki.

"A scandalous exit for Kasyanov would turn him into a colossal political figure," Piontkovsky said. "If Putin throws out Kasyanov, he creates an opponent in the 2004 presidential elections."