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BBC Monitoring
St Pete's group may hurt Putin while targeting oligarchs - TV commentator
Source: TVS, Moscow, in Russian 0420 gmt 6 Jun 03

A Russian National Strategy Council report - which states that a group of oligarchs is seeking to restrict President Vladimir Putin's powers - reflects a rift within the Kremlin administration, a leading TV commentator has said. Speaking on the TVS "Yest Mneniye" show, Yuliya Latynina said that the St Petersburg team was behind the move. Latynina warned that an attempt to destroy the presidential system of checks and balances could propel the country towards a coup d'etat engineered by tycoons. The following is an excerpt from the commentary broadcast by Russian TVS television on 6 June. Subheading have been inserted editorially:

A new scandal has emerged in the political scientists' camp. Russia's National Strategy Council (NSC) has published a report under the threatening title: A Oligarchs' Coup is Being Prepared in Russia.

The spring of 2003 has been marked by a qualitatively new process for Russia, the report says. The ruling oligarchy has started preparations for a transformation of the country's state system in order to ensure a marriage between super-large business and executive power. The country is on the verge of an oligarchs' creeping coup d'etat.

Grassing on oligarchs

Look at the way they phrase it! Quite some analytical style: transformation of the country's state system, marriage of super-large business. There is no mere twitter - one can sense it has been compiled by serious people. Such a document is worth placing on the president's desk. Look, society is getting worried about developments. Scientists say so.

The list of the oligarchs plotting a coup includes [Chukotka governor] Roman Abramovich, [Alfa group head] Mikhail Fridman, [Russian Aluminium head] Oleg Deripaska, [Yukos oil major head] Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, [Interros group head] Vladimir Potanin and [MDM group head] Andrey Melnichenko. All of them represent an anti-national system of values, appeal to other states' resources as a guarantor of their interests in Russia's political and economic spheres, profess hedonism and cult of money, and are dooming Russia to technological backwardness, [the report says].

Representatives of the authorities subsumed by them, such as [deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav] Surkov, [presidential administration head Aleksandr] Voloshin and [Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov, are refusing any attempts to beef up state control in the national economy. Moreover, not being content with the retail purchase of officials, the oligarchs wants to restrict the president's power. And this is the heart of the matter. We might have overlooked the degradation and hedonism. However, the presidential power issue makes this more than a mere report - this is the grassing. This is Cicero's On Catiline's Plot [against Rome].

Reputable political scientists are part of the NSC: Sergey Markov, Mark Urnov, Leonid Smirnyagin and others. However, it became immediately known that the most reputable of them, such as Markov and Urnov, did not write and had not seen Catiline's Plot. The report bearing their names was presented at a news conference by much less-known thinkers, [NSC director Stanislav] Belkovskiy and [NSC co-chairman Iosif] Diskin. Still, after seeing the report, most of the experts mentioned another name - [spin doctor] Gleb Pavlovskiy. [Passage omitted]

Rift behind Kremlin walls

The report written in Urnov and Markov's name seems to reflect a struggle within the presidential administration between the new security men, the [Viktor] Ivanov-[Igor] Sechin group, and old oligarchs, the Voloshin-Surkov group. The fight is for the One Russia party. One Russia is in dire need of a pre-election idea. The St Petersburg part of the Kremlin administration seems to believe that combating oligarchs may become such a central idea.

However, there is a small, but delicate, detail. The oligarchs are believed to be financing One Russia's electoral campaign. Surkov and Voloshin are believed to be in charge of distributing this cash flow in the Kremlin. By the way, Surkov and Voloshin are backing quite a different central idea, that is combating the Communist Party.

If all of this is true, we have a chess fork here. If a party financed by the oligarchs loses under the slogan of combating oligarchs, the blame for this will be laid at the door of Surkov and Voloshin. And if it wins under the slogan of combating oligarchs, it will take pleasure in putting the slogan into life. As the English saying has it: heads - we win, tails - you lose.

Bad idea

At first glance, combating the oligarchs is a perfect PR idea. Still, it has a few drawbacks.

First, this is a populist slogan. And, as a rule of thumb, as soon as you start building your campaign on populist slogans, it will be won not by moderate populists, but by the extreme ones. As far as the fight against oligarchs is concerned, the Communists are a hundred times better than any One Russia. Thus, building one's campaign on combating the oligarchs means working for the Communists, who, when seeing a victory, usually lose the brakes and the steering gear.

Second, if the St Petersburgers start tearing the oligarchs apart in earnest, the oligarchs will have to fight back. And one has to agree that it is impossible to blacken an oligarch in the public's eyes: he is already as black as night. Meanwhile, the St Petersburgers have a positive image in the country. Just imagine what would happen if people start reminding them every day about the 330m dollars spent on the Konstantin Palace, about [the controlling stock in] Severnaya Neft [Northern Oil], or about the non-transparent Gazprom? [Passage omitted]

And finally, the third point. One would do better not to corner an oligarch. Oligarchs have no manners and tend to bite back. They have been through the toughest natural selection process. The oligarchs are self-made men, while the St Petersburgers were appointed by the president. He appointed then in an attempt to limit the oligarchs' tendency for expansion by having a personal guard. He appointed them in a hope of building a sophisticated system of checks and balances.

And when people who have not been through the toughest process of natural selection destroy the presidential system of checks and balances, they rather propel the country towards an oligarchic coup d'etat.

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