Loss of `literary' associates may weaken Chubais


The names Aleksandr Kazakov, Maksim Boiko, Pyotr Mostovoi and Anatoly Chubais are not the first to come to mind in the context of Russian literature. They have in recent days, however, replaced Aleksandr Pushkin, Lev Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky as Russia's most talked-about authors. All four men were members of President Yeltsin's administration until the weekend. Three have now been sacked. First deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chubais, remains at his post with a large section of the media and the general population calling for his head.

The "literary" aspect of Russia's latest political scandal makes it unique. Mr Chubais and his colleagues, it has been revealed in the Russian press and TV, received payments of $100,000 (£66,5000) each for their work on a book.

Eyebrows were raised when it became clear that no book had been written. More questions were asked when it was learned that that the non-publishers of the non-publication had strong financial associations with Mr Vladimir Potanin's Oneximbank group.

Mr Potanin is a former first deputy prime minister. He is also a very wealthy man. In the context of the scandal he appears to have done well out of Russia's privatisation process. This very process was the subject of the controversial tome for which the men got such advances.

Oneximbank, which controls the daily newspapers Russky Telegraf and Izvestia, was recently successful in gaining a large tranche of Svyazinvest, the previously state-controlled telecommunications company.

Moves by the Communist-led opposition in the State Duma to scupper the national Budget, until Mr Chubais was forced to resign, appear to be faltering.

Mr Yeltsin's press secretary, Mr Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said yesterday that it was "hopeless to talk to the president of the Russian Federation in terms of ultimatums and demands." Although the Communist leader, Mr Gennady Zyuganov, predicted Mr Chubais's demise, the Duma started to back down and agreed to debate the budget on Friday.

The Duma may be spineless but there are other, tougher, players in the political game that is currently being played in Moscow. Mr Chubais is invariably described, especially by the Reuters news agency, as being "despised by the communists". That is only part of story. He is hated by much more powerful figures, too. A mention of his name is enough to turn the powerful Mayor of Moscow, Mr Yuri Luzhkov, apoplectic. The Prime Minister, Mr Viktor Chernomyrdin, is known not to be a fan and almost the entire population, according to polls, hate Mr Chubais's guts.

Some very wealthy entrepreneurs, less fortunate in the privatisation stakes than Mr Potanin, are out for revenge. In the forefront is Mr Boris Berezovsky who was sacked earlier this month from Mr Yeltsin's team at Mr Chubais's request. Mr Berezovsky owns or controls, directly or indirectly, the main national TV station and the daily newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Another disappointed privateer, Mr Vladimir Guskinsky, controls the "independent" NTV channel and the daily newspaper Segodnya.

Mr Chubais may survive the Duma's feeble attempts to unseat him. But the loss of his associates could leave him as a lame duck.