#6 - JRL 7246
July 11, 2003
WHERE CHUBAIS GETS HIS STRENGTH
What the Western papers say about recent events in Russia
Author: Stanislav Tarasov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE SAGA OF THE YUKOS OIL COMPANY, AS WELL AS THE SUICIDE BOMBINGS AT TUSHINO, HAVE DRAWN LIVELY COMMENTARY IN THE WESTERN MEDIA. NEWSPAPERS ABROAD ARE DISCUSSING THE ACTIONS AND POSSIBLE MOTIVES OF RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS AND THE RUSSIAN LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES.
The saga of the YUKOS oil company, as well as the suicide bombings at Tushino, have drawn lively commentary in the Western media. The "Presse" newspaper (Austria) notes that if these incidents are viewed in isolation, it is difficult to make out any meaning or logic in what is going on, especially since the Russian government's comments are so confusing. But if "events are aligned in order", some surprising conclusions may become apparent.
Where did it all begin? "Asia Times" magazine (US) says the process began with "a high-level think-tank report released during the recent St Petersburg gala to celebrate that city's 300 years." The report contained a warning that "oligarchs in Russia are plotting a coup." According to this theory, the following oligarchs have grown dissatisfied with the pace of the Kremlin's reforms and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov: Mikhail Khodorkovsky (petroleum), Roman Abramovich (petroleum), Mikhail Fridman (petroleum and banking), Vladimir Potanin (nickel) and Andrei Melnichenko (banking and industry). They "collectively support the introduction of a parliamentary system in which the position of the prime minister would be all-powerful, with the presidency rendered to the level of symbolism - or even dispensed with altogether."
Analyzing the composition of Russia's ruling elite, "The Wall Street Journal" presents the following scenario for the oligarchs' actions: to change the political layout with the help of Duma members after the parliamentary elections. Duma members would take away the president's power to form the government, and make their sponsor prime minister. That was the reason behind the "over-exposure" of YUKOS chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Some other Western papers have been more direct. "The Guardian", for example, cites its Moscow sources in reporting that Khodorkovsky, by funding parties like Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, was counting on securing around 30% of Duma seats. But the overall takeover of power from the Kremlin was being planned for a later period, towards the end of Putin's second term in late 2007.
"Die Welt" (Germany) continues the theme, noting that Russian Joint Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais has come forward just at this moment. In an interview on Moscow television, he declared that "his team, regardless of whether or not it is in government, is still responsible for the nation's fate and does not intend to surrender power." To ordinary citizens, such an announcement could only appear as rhetoric. But for those who had been closely observing behind-the- scenes power struggles at the top of Russian politics, a great deal was made clear: the oligarchs are trying to forestall the president's actions in some way.
The next events included the arrest of Platon Lebedev, chairman of the board of Menatep and one of the major shareholders in the YUKOS oil company. Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself was even summoned by the Prosecutor General's Office. "Suddeutsche Zeitung" (Germany) considers that Khodorkovsky's comments on events were predictable: of course the authorities are "acting arbitrarily", dragging "privatization cases" out of the archives and so on. But nevertheless, it is a fact that Putin and his team have successfully forestalled the development of certain processes. And indeed, no one would have noticed them were it not for the suicide bombings at Tushino.
Perhaps this is a coincidence, pure chance, and someone has decided to take advantage of the situation. But then an even more dangerous diagnosis may be made: the ideologues of terrorism are capable of receiving information from the most "reliable Moscow sources".
In conclusion, another quote from "Asia Times": "The house that Putin has built has its significant imperfections, but it is a better place to live in than any gilded cage in which the oligarchs would have Russians reside."
(Translated by Arina Yevtikhova)