Who triggered the scandal?
The tragicomedy that goes by the name "Gusinsky vs. Gazprom (or Kremlin)" has become one of those played-out sagas where you can always predict the next episode. But a few acid-tongued analysts think there are still some interesting plot lines to explore.
It's said that the whole scandal started on a Website linked to well-known Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky's Foundation for Effective Politics. It was there that the deal's secret protocol signed between Gazprom and Media-MOST's Vladimir Gusinsky for sale of the company's holdings was first published. A restricted circle had earlier access to the information, which was leaked by Media-MOST, even though the company had insisted on an embargo and was fully aware that the document would lose its strength as an insurance policy if it became public.
Pavlovsky's interest in this latest scandal is an attempt to gain the upper hand in a behind-the-scenes fight. For even though Pavlovsky and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin play on the same team (the Kremlin) and in the same field (public relations), Pavlovsky thinks, and with some justification, that Lesin is not up to his job. That's why the Kremlin spin doctor made a play to get Lesin removed, by publicly releasing the fatal mistake of his colleague and rival, who decided to make himself guarantor of individual citizens' constitutional rights and freedoms.
It is an open question as to who could succeed Lesin as media minister. Some unexpected decisions could occur, perhaps even a job offer extended to one of the Kremlin's current "opponents." But it won't be easy to convince any of the nonconformists. After all, Echo Moscow radio station Chief Editor Alexei Venediktov, an old friend of Alexander Voloshin, was once offered the job and turned it down. Moreover, Lesin isn't yet ready to give in. Even though he's got himself into a real mess, he intends to fight for his post to the end. The ammunition for the next round of mudslinging is said to be loaded and aimed, either toward Media-MOST, which may take the next shot, or, if MOST's opponents don't want to wait, they could, it is said, divulge details of the holding's involvement in "unethical" cinema projects.
Sons of Israel haven't divided up the Kremlin
In attending the opening of the largest Jewish community center west of the Urals, Vladimir Putin demonstrated his clear, but hard-to-explain, preference for this particular branch of the tribes of Israel. During the ceremonies, Putin let slip that "we feel, every day, the growing influence [of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia]."
The new center belongs to representatives of the Lubavitsch branch of Judaism. The chief Lubavitsch rabbi, Berl Lazar, elected by the Federation of Jewish Communities' congress this spring is considered by the Kremlin to be the chief rabbi of Russia.
The federation would like to have a monopoly on representing Jews in Russia, but it has a rival Gusinsky's All-Russian Jewish Congress. In May, the Kremlin gave its preference to the federation. This could have been a measure of revenge directed toward Gusinsky, who had offended Putin and his team, or it could have been a machination of Kremlin insider Roman Abramovich, who was an esteemed guest at the community center's opening ceremony. Abramovich, the rumor goes, isn't motivated so much by lofty considerations as by filthy lucre.
The rumormongers say that, while fate gave them the chance, Abramovich and close ally Israeli businessman Lev Livayev, who is connected to the diamond business, took the opportunity to convert the "virtual capital" their Kremlin connections into real capital. This involved increasing their presence on the international market, including in the Promised Land.
But their activities would have looked too corrupt compared to the activities of Gusinsky, a widely recognized and active member of the Jewish community, so they decided to organize an alternative to Gusinsky's Jewish Congress and enlisted Boris Berezovsky to help set up the federation a few years ago. This was to give them the image of decent and active members of the Jewish community and detract from their other activities.
A new boss for customs
It often happens that the officials who stay in their jobs the longest are either the most insignificant or the ones whose imminent dismissal is always on everyone's tongues.
One of the latter types is customs head Mikhail Vanin. Vanin got his job a year and a half ago when Sergei Stepashin was prime minister and has been rumored to be on the verge of dismissal several times. It is hard to link him to any oligarch, but the fact that he's not one of Putin's people is easy enough to prove. One of the unwritten rules of modern Russian history is that when you have such lucrative financial flows coming through customs, you put your own man in charge.
Until recently, Vanin has successfully demonstrated his loyalty and ability to be what others wanted him to be. He has played along with the new visibility of the security ministries and has had his customs officers busy catching smugglers on the borders.
But money rules the day, it seems, and rumors have grown more persistent of late that Vanin may be replaced by Vadim Kozhin. If, however, Vanin holds on to his job, this will put him into the league of the most agile officials, and all the rumors about his dismissal will look to have been thought up by himself. It is a favorite tactic of the longest-serving officials to beat their opponents to it and leak their devious plans to the press well before the moment is actually ripe for a dismissal.
Ekaterina Larina is The Russia Journal's assistant editor.
(E-mail Katya at email@example.com)