Argumeny i Fakty
January 22, 2003
A POLITICAL THRILLER: CHUBAIS IN THE CROSSFIRE
Anatoly Chubais can expect increased pressure over the next year
Author: Sergei Mikhailov, Andrei Uglanov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE NEXT ELECTIONS IN RUSSIA COULD SEE A NEW SCAPEGOAT: ANATOLY
CHUBAIS, HEAD OF RUSSIAN JOINT ENERGY SYSTEMS. THOSE AT THE TOP ARE
SOMETIMES A LITTLE SCARED OF CHUBAIS. WHAT ARE THE MOTIVES FOR SEEKING
TO MARGINALIZE THE MAN IN CHARGE OF RUSSIA'S ELECTRICITY MONOPOLY?
Any election campaign involves not only self-promotion, but also
a search for an "enemy" compared to whom the candidate will appear to
the best advantage. The next elections in Russia could see a new
scapegoat. And it appears that this role will be played by Anatoly
Chubais. It's more than simply saying the "red-haired guy" is to blame
for everything; the point is that those at the top are sometimes a
little scared of Chubais.
What are the pro-government party's internal motives for seeking
to marginalize the man in charge of Russia's electricity monopoly?
First: Chubais is independent and wealthy. He manages a sector
which is capable of getting a stranglehold on the entire economy, or
any particular branches and enterprises, especially those run by
oligarchs allied with the pro-government party.
Second: Chubais has his own political views and ambitions. And a
substantial tool for realizing those ambitions: the Union of Right
Forces, a young and aggressive political force.
Third: Chubais's own electronic media resources: Ren-TV and, to a
large extent, TVS.
Fourth: Chubais carries significant political weight in the West.
If he wants a meeting with any Western leader, he doesn't have to go
through the Foreign Ministry or the presidential administration to get
Fifth: Chubais knows the political and financial background of
all the regime's intrigues, and the key figures involved. Due to this,
his former superiors both fear and respect him. The only thing he
hasn't managed to do yet is establish friendly relations with the
All this makes Chubais a very inviting target, for both the main
Kremlin factions - the St. Petersburg people and Yeltsin's Family -
especially since President Putin might appoint Chubais as his campaign
manager at any time. That's what happened in 1996, when Chubais was
called in urgently to replace O. Soskovets and A. Korzhakov.
Chubais's opponents need to find reasons and pretexts to demonize
him beyond redemption in the eyes of voters.
What form will the anti-Chubais campaign take, in the lead-up to
the parliamentary and presidential elections?
An open propaganda campaign is already underway, involving
presidential economic advisor Andrei Illarionov, Yabloko leader
Grigorii Yavlinsky, and the parliament. The pretext is Chubais's
determination to restructure the electricity sector - even as entire
cities experience heating shortages this winter. All this is a very
sensitive issue for voters, and it's being heated up by the media;
even though in 1991, for example, urban heating supplies were in a
much worse state than they are today.
We can expect various speakers to push the idea that Anatoly
Chubais has thought up the idea of restructuring Russian Joint Energy
Systems (RJES) for his own benefit, to enrich himself. Accusations
made by the Communists are very useful here: Chubais is working for
the West, deliberately ruining the Russian economy. In a word, he's a
What can Chubais do, if caught in this trap?
The simplest course of action would be to lie low, not draw
attention to himself, not respond to attacks in any way. And to
postpone RJES reforms for a while.
Counter-attack would be another option. As Chubais said in 1996:
"Driving the last nail into their coffin." That would be more in line
with Chubais's temperament - but also more dangerous. He could lose
everything, especially if the president is persuaded that Chubais's
dismissal is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for a first- round win in the presidential election.
What can Chubais do? For a start, he could make use of the
upcoming Davos economic forum for some confidential chats with Western
leaders. As a result, it won't be a matter of Chubais running to the
Kremlin for protection; instead, Gerhard Schroeder or Tony Blair might
drop a hint to Putin about this liberal reformer being very important
for democratic Russia. After all, only Chubais is capable of being a
real counterweight to radical Communists. He is an extremely important
element of Russia's political balance of power.
But Chubais's most vital task is to secure third place, at least,
for the Union of Right Forces in the Duma. Some forecasts say the URF
could collect 15-18% of the vote. It is already in second or third
place according to opinion polls in the Irkutsk, Nizhny Novgorod,
Rostov, Samara, Saratov, and Yaroslav regions, as well as
Bashkortostan and Udmurtia.
In any event, the cycle will come to an end by March 2004.
Chubais will become an "experienced manager" for another three years,
and lauch real reforms at RJES. After that, he may be recollected only
in 2007 - unless someone else happens to become the person everyone
(Translated by Arina Yevtikhova)