#12 - JRL 7251
July 16-22, 2003
The Chekist Touch
By Viktor Loshak
MN chief editor
Once they get into the Kremlin, gentlemen in uniform, unaccountably, seek to follow in the footsteps of Alexander Korzhakov (in this photo). Seven years ago, ahead of presidential elections, he tried to privatize the president, order about the oligarchs, and control the distribution of public funds. History is repeating itself
The Kremlin is in crisis. The sheer possibility of revisiting privatization and therefore of pushing the country toward a new re-division of property; the attempt to humiliate the country's largest company, also one of international repute; the arrest of one of its shareholders in a hospital (this alone aroused scathing comments in the West), and his pointless detention cannot in any way be approved of by the liberal part of the Kremlin team.
Last Friday's feel-good meeting between the president and leaders of public organizations and the almost cowardly position of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs should fool no one. According to Kremlin sources, this past Tuesday or Wednesday, two high-ranking Kremlin officials were going to resign. The administration is greatly worried by its inability to stand up to people from the Federal Security Service who decided to run the economy and review Russia's image. It is known that the Yukos leadership had information about Lebedev's upcoming arrest and the operation as a whole. But the Kremlin was reassuring: "This cannot be," "We will not allow this to happen." The arrest, general searches and raids, and pressure on Yukos and Sibneft compel a new look at the clout and closeness to the president of Alexander Voloshin, presidential chief of staff and the unquestionable leader of the Kremlin liberals. It would seem that in a crisis like this one, Voloshin should definitely place his deputy, Gen. V.P. Ivanov, in some Kremlin stockade. Yet things turn out to be far more complex on the ground: It is the Voloshin team, in fact, that could end up in isolation - true, thus far political isolation only. Recently, one of the country's major oligarchs who sought to remain neutral, said: "Power has changed hands in the Kremlin." Quietly, by stealth the V.P. Ivanov-Sechin duo just about got their hands on the helm. So while the president himself is an ex-security service officer, power - including the power to take repressive action - is flowing to another two ex's. Does this mean that civil society will be built by intelligence and counterintelligence men? Or that they will be building something else instead?
They say the liberals and the siloviki - top brass in the armed forces, law enforcement and the intelligence services - are the two wings in the Kremlin power structure, and it is only with two wings that we can fly into the bright future. The trouble is, however, that these wings are flapping at cross purposes. Even if the "forward-backward" forces balance each other out, the power machine will at best stand still.
Paradoxically, the Voloshin bloc will have to deal with the mess that the FSB and the Prosecutor's Office are making. Clearly, the worried Western politicians seek explanation not from FSB head Patrushev or Ustinov, and Putin's seemly political entourage is supposed to be made up by Vladislav Surkov, a former Yukos man, and liberals Dmitry Medvedev, Alexei Gromov, Dmitry Kozak, Sergei Prikhodko, and Alexander Abramov. Rumor has it that for the first time in months this team feels that it is not getting enough media coverage, that journalists do not appreciate the critical nature of the situation, and that it would like to see more hard-hitting exposes. In other words, the boomerang has returned. Once, in founding TVS Channel, an entrepreneur said: "I'm doing this to make sure that my arrest is reported in the media other than just The Teachers Gazette." All those who had a hand in destroying TV-6 and emasculating the main Russian TV channels can now serenely watch beach-volleyball contests and reports on the harvesting campaign. People who have been building managed democracy can feel, to their cost, that they have attained their goals. Now that they have wound up on the brink, the most popular medium, television, keeps silent or at best talks through its hat.
Of course everyone is wondering why Putin needs all this in the first place. What is the point of losing so needlessly all the points that he has just scored in St. Petersburg with the world leaders? Even Prime Minister Kasyanov showed rare courage, saying that the actions by the Prosecutor General's Office hurt the economy. Indeed, in the past two weeks of the crackdown on the business sector, the RTS index plummeted 47 points, to pre-crisis level.
It is more or less clear what those leading the attack will gain from the re-distribution of property, the bankruptcy of some companies and the rise of others. But how is the country as a whole going to benefit from this?
If by lynching the oligarchs Putin wanted to play up to the blood-thirsty populace, he should look at cartoons in the Communist Zavtra and Sovetskaya Rossia - just to see who the "people's artists" present as the oligarchs' sponsor.
The signs are that the Kremlin is now going through a 1996 situation, under Yeltsin. Menatep, where arrests have been made and searches are going on, is the same kind of Xerox cardboard box (used to sneak $ 500,000 in purported slush funds out of the government building, in the 1996 election campaign. - Ed.) that could produce a bombshell effect. To be frank, it is not so important what the masterminds behind the drive are really after - privatizing the president, controlling the economy, sinking the "Family" or simply showing who the sheriff in this town is.
It seems that the Kremlin siloviki have now emerged as a collective Korzhakov. Actually, things like the Yukos case will lead the country in the direction that Gen. Korzhakov proposed taking almost a decade ago. True, he was in a more difficult situation: His boss had neither the experience nor the will to fight freedom of expression, which in fact predetermined the outcome.
The present siloviki should be thanked if only because by their surprise aggression and their attempt to start divvying things up again they will unite both sensible politicians and those who have something to lose. In the end, as the experience of Yeltsin's bodyguard Korzhakov shows, the scandal turned out to be a boon for the general himself. Not only did he avoid imprisonment, but his life became considerably more fun: He did not have to pretend anymore that official salary was his only source of income; he became an MP, regularly appearing on television, and even embarked on a publishing career, even if not a very successful one.
Whatever V. Ivanov-Sechin and their subordinates might do, their path - in Korzhakov's footsteps - is a foregone conclusion. Sooner or later the logic of life will force Putin to do it. Just as Korzhakov, they leave him no alternative.