“Whatever the Kremlin or the General Prosecutor’s Office might say concerning Vladimir Gusinsky’s arrest, the only reason for his detention is the independence of the media controlled by Media-Most and their critical attitude toward the authorities,” stated the newspaper Segodnya in the very first article devoted to the number one event of recent days.
It is important to say that, despite the variety of assessments of the media included in Gusinsky’s media empire, and of the activity of the media oligarch himself, the actions of the authorities found no support among journalists and politicians. Even Boris Berezovsky, Gusinsky’s perennial opponent, hastened to express in Kommersant his negative attitude toward the actions by the General Prosecutor’s Office: “There is no business leader against whom the punitive machine could not be used, since the country’s legislation is far from perfect… The imperfection of laws makes it possible to prosecute absolutely anyone.” At the same time, Berezovsky considered it necessary to add that Gusinsky “fell victim to the machine he himself had set to work”. The reason for such remarks is Philip Bobkov, the current head of Media-Most’s security service, who once was “one of the most experienced men in the KGB”. The first reaction by the pro-Berezovsky Nezavisimaya Gazeta to the arrest of the rival was a sour remark that the current campaign in Gusinsky’s support will be “stronger than the previous one” (after the raid in the offices of Media-Most): “Infringement on freedom of speech and an attack on democracy will both be mentioned.” At the same time, the newspaper stated that these events have “only an indirect relation” to the media, only as long as Gusinsky – an independent political player, an oligarch – has business relations with them. The newspaper even hinted that this is the crux of the matter: “According to certain data, all so-called oligarchs have lately visited the Kremlin and in private conversations all of them were reminded of Lenin’s methods of “expropriation of expropriators”. What’s more, Nezavisimaya Gazeta added, “the authorities have no other thing to do, under the circumstances, than prove Gusinsky’s fault. Otherwise, this would be a gross mistake by the authorities which would be extremely hard to correct.”
The newspaper Vremya Novostei called the current events “the end of the era of oligarchs’ immunity”. Until recently, the newspaper remarked, despite all defaults by people of such rank and influence as Gusinsky, the authorities did not dare to undertake “actions beyond the framework of warnings and demonstrations of power”. From the point of view of the newspaper, the question is not for what Gusinsky suffered, but why he and who will be the next.
“The demonstration of impartiality to oligarchs has been a failure all the way now,” writes Vremya Novostei. “Persecution of political enemies alone can hardly justify the slogan of dictatorship of the law. It would be good to persecute some political allies.”
The embarrassment of Vladimir Putin, who stated in Madrid on the day of Gusinsky’s detention that he was not aware of the details of the event since the General Prosecutor’s Office is acting independently, was noted by all media. Part of them categorically stated that the president could not have failed to know of the planned action. Others, on the contrary, expressed confidence that the president had been set up.
Vitaly Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, is convinced that Putin actively participated in preparation of The Gusinsky case: in particular, as Tretyakov writes, he took Primakov to Madrid. Thus, the latter was absent from Moscow and could not say what he would have said. Everybody was surprised: why Putin should need Primakov abroad?
The newspaper Segodnya, on the contrary, holds that if the president had known of the planned detention of the head of Media-Most, he, “being of an analytical turn of mind, as many employees of security services, would have been able to predict the international resonance of the “active measure” and would have called it off.” The newspaper presumes that the “companions left in charge of the household” have taken the hardest line on purpose, having left Putin “to get out of the scrape on his own.” Segodnya even mentions the authors of the plot. They are, naturally, Alexander Voloshin, head of the presidential administration, Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council, and the “new member of the family”, Sergei Pugachev, head of Mezhprombank, (Mezhprombank issued credit cards for Yeltsin’s daughters guaranteed by Bedget Paccoli, Segodnya reports).
Thus, the newspaper concludes, “the Family continues to train the young successor so that he should not be distracted from the family business.” Moreover, Gusinsky’s arrest is already the second lesson: the first one was taught when the Family did not let Putin appoint Dmitry Kozak general prosecutor. “The main argument is said to have been the following: Kozak will not be able to put Gusinsky in jail.” It is worth noting that Ivanov, appointed by Putin head of the “most powerful agency of state influence” in an attempt to create his own counterbalance to the presidential administration, will hardly be able to play his part: “The whole gang turned out to be bound by the same chain – the Gusinsky case…”
In the opinion of the newspaper Vremya MN, Putin will lose, regardless of the way the Gusinsky case will develop: “He will have to hear questions of “did or did not know” for a long time and realize that, regardless of the answer, he will be the one to blame.” In fact, all possible was done to spoil the reputation of the new president. The newspaper writes that the matter concerns not only pressuring the independent press, but also discrediting all initiatives of the Kremlin in regards to foreign policy: “Who would ever trust a country which revives political repression?”
Izvestia holds that, eventually, it is not so important who started the whole business with Gusinsky’s arrest, the point is that it demonstrated the true nature of the current authorities: “Neither an active subordinate, nor Putin’s secret enemy would have made such a disgrace of the whole country and its president, taking into consideration the more or less distant future,” This was done, as the newspaper writes, “by people whose only task is to stay at the top for a week, a month, half a year more and grab as much as they possibly can. And then – come what may.”
Novye Izvestia holds that the consequences of the Gusinsky case for domestic and foreign policy are equal to a national catastrophe. “The head of state who had hardly come to power has lost his charisma of a serious and sensible politician,” and the country was, in fact, left without a reasonable president again. The point is not that “Putin’s explanations concerning the Gusinsky case were inadequate”, but that it became clear that, having become head of state, Putin remained “a very narrow specialist”. Russia and the West heard absurd explanations that the general prosecutor is out of reach, “long quotations from Gusinsky’s dossier concerning financial and tax peculiarities of his business, including information about his position in the hierarchy of Jewish organizations.” Novye Izvestia states: “The mysteriously cool, pragmatic, and tough Mr. Putin no longer exists. People were left face to face with a political teenager whose behavior and manners make grown-ups flush to the roots of their hair.”
Novaya Gazeta, recalling 1991 and Gorbachev’s journey to Foros, writes: “After the coup, Gorbachev returned a different person and to a different country. The same has, actually, happened to Putin, but he needs some time to realize this.” By fall, the newspaper holds, the president will want to grasp full control over the situation in the country and “dismantle oligarchs,” because “there are only two ways in Putin’s mind: either oligarchs win, or he and the FSB.” Now the president is in a true predicament: the reputation of a strangler of free press will be added to previous reproaches of human rights abuse in the North Caucasus. Moreover, there is another destabilizing nuance: a conflict with the Jewish diaspora of the West. Gusinsky is known to be vice president of the World Jewish Congress and president of the Congress of Jewish religious communities of Russia. “If one wants to start a conflict with all the world’s Jews, this is what should be done.” Novaya Gazeta considers it to be the grossest, “politically fatal mistake by Putin”. (“It is known that Russia’s future will be basically determined by harmonious cooperation between the three main religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and peoples representing them – Russians, Muslim ethnic groups, and Jews. Earlier a conflict with Muslims erupted in Chechnya and now the Jews have been affected. Two of the three pillars are trembling…”).
Novaya Gazeta is sure that within the next few months Putin will be provoked into some illegitimate actions. He will “introduce some kind of tough rule… This is when he will be dismissed and publicly “executed”, being held responsible for everything.” There can be no other development: Boris Berezovsky, Russia’s main political trickster, is playing against Putin. “Putin must be thinking that he is following the path of strengthening state power. In fact, an active secret campaign to discredit the president is underway. He is being deprived of the resources on which Russia’s presidents have always depended. First of all, these are governors and regional elites.” The president lost their support, in the opinion of the newspaper, after the regulation on the creation of seven federal districts had been issued. “The confrontation between regions and the center became much more acute.” The “deputy from Karachaevo-Cherkessia”, as the press likes to call Berezovsky, managed to use the situation for his own purposes. By his Duma speech, Novaya Gazeta explains, Berezovsky stated to governors that he is ready to protect them. It is important to remember, the newspaper emphasizes, that Putin is no more than a temporary figure for such a consummate political player. Berezovsky has his own goals: “to destroy the state structure with the help of Putin himself and appoint his own “pocket” president.” Gusinsky’s arrest is a step toward reaching these goals. This step, the newspaper writes, has “sharply reduced Putin’s tenure as president.”
Obshchaya Gazeta also recalled August 1991 as a pattern of the cataclysm facing Russia at present. Putin seems to be entirely different from Gorbachev: “he seeks not to wake society to life and self-determination, but to establish a firm command chain.” Moreover, the situation in the country is not in the least reminiscent of the times which had bred the coup attempt by the State Committee for Emergencies: in the opinion of the newspaper, there is no threat of disintegration of the country and there is no opposition in security structures. Still, Obshchaya Gazeta holds, “there is something in the air, not a new coup attempt, but still, something bad.” Putin’s love of order and discipline inevitably meets resistance of the political elite. From the point of view of OG, discipline for Putin is “a goal in itself, a synonym of his own power.” This is why “the question of what it is needed for does not disturb him.” However, the elite needs order which would guarantee it preservation of the privatization results. “Is the new colossal strengthening of the authoritarian presidential rule sought by Putin necessary for this? Hardly likely. On the contrary, such strengthening, Putin’s turning into a kind of “absolute monarch” might lead to a situation where those who wish to retain their property will have to swear allegiance to the president, to be supporters or members of Unity, etc.” The elite cannot regard such a development as desirable: “This is not what it abandoned the CPSU for.”
Berezovsky’s recent actions, Obshchaya Gazeta holds, were caused by “realizing of such a possibility by a far-sighted person who understands that if at present the authorities are pressuring his rival, tomorrow he may be the one under attack.” Actually, the newspaper remarks, “the current authorities have more than enough experts in special operations and “effective policies.”
The newspaper Segodnya quotes Berezovsky’s interview with the German magazine “Der Spiegel”, timed to coincide with Gusinsky’s detention. Berezovsky called the recent events a “component of the experiment by employees of old-school security services who had been in oblivion for long as a decade, and have come to the foreground again” after a power shift in the Kremlin. “Putin is now given bad advice,” Berezovsky stated, advice from people who do not understand that “freedom and dictatorship are incompatible in one head to such an extent that sooner or later this must end in an explosion.” Although the incumbent president was “the most suitable candidate for our time”, remarked Berezovsky, he, eventually, did not justify the hopes of those who elected him, having turned out to be “a person incapable of strategic thinking.” Having become president, Putin opted for a Latin American way of development for the country – “free market under centralized authoritative power” and now he needs a “strong opponent within the country.” Berezovsky makes a conclusion: the time has come for the creation of a “useful opposition” to the president.
“Opposition is a new role for Berezovsky,” the magazine Novoye Vremya writes. “Berezovsky is saving democracy. This is what is written on the label of his new product.” An oligarch-politician is seeking to become a constructive critic of the authorities. “Each time, Berezovsky’s participation in the political process was intriguing, if not sinister,” recalls the magazine. “Now he is trying to open a new front.” Today many politicians realize the importance of opposition. “Berezovsky turned out to be more quick and insistent, as always. Even if only in rhetoric.”
Novaya Gazeta gives a curious definition of Berezovsky’s political capabilities. Giving its worth to his analytical and strategic talent, the newspaper writes: “It is no accident that God has sent such a talented and clever strategist on our heads. We must learn to use him for peaceful ends, like atomic energy. Now it is a nuclear bomb.” If Berezovsky’s political interests are brought into conformity with the interests of the country, “he will be forced to look for such a presidential candidate who would save the country and himself, having found a decent application for him.” The newspaper, in fact, proclaims Berezovsky national property.
Still, the magazine Novoye Vremya does not rule out the possibility of the Kremlin “making short work of Berezovsky, although such a development is hardly likely.” The president’s retinue cannot fail to understand that even “the most sensible or dangerous idea, being put forward by Berezovsky, is discredited from the very beginning.” Besides, Putin’s bills, criticized by Berezovsky, being authoritative, are still, as Novoye Vremya points out, directed to building a so-called “controlled democracy”. Here lies a paradox: “the majority of senators against whom the new laws are directed already have this controlled democracy at home.” Thus, authoritarianism, “more or less successfully built almost in every republic, region, and district” comes into conflict with the attempts by the central authorities to establish something of the kind throughout the whole country.
The newspaper Vremya Novostei points out that Gusinsky’s arrest have given a chance of salvation to governors: the administrative reform initiated by Putin is in serious danger. The overriding by the Duma of the “practically inevitable” veto of the Federation Council on Putin’s bills may be called into question: in the opinion of Artur Chilingarov, deputy Duma speaker, “Gusinsky’s detention may undermine politicians’ confidence in the president’s initiatives and has already done so.” If governors manage to use their lobbying skills, Vremya Novostei writes, “the program of bringing regions to heel may collapse without having begun.”
Governors now have a powerful stimulus: if earlier the statement by Alexander Kotenkov, presidential representative in the Duma, about 16 governors who will be put in jail as soon as the law is passed was perceived as a polemic, even if tactless, exaggeration, after Gusinsky’s arrest this statement has become much more realistic. Governors, in the opinion of the newspaper, have two ways out: either try to adapt themselves to the new order or use the opportunity of preserving the current situation (“however, in case of failure far more than 16 governors will be put in jail”). Still, the newspaper holds that governors will have no other chance of maintaining their status of federal politicians: supporting Gusinsky’s persecution, they will “lower themselves to the level of ordinary governmental officials.”
However, the Kremlin plan of strengthening the command chain is not limited to an attack on the rights of regional leaders and lowering of the status of the Federation Council, reports the weekly Argumenti i Fakti. According to its information, the presidential administration is preparing a new draft law on election of deputies, which stipulates a significant reduction – from 225 to 100 – of the number of Duma deputies elected on party lists. This bill, Argumenti i Fakti reports, will be put forward by Unity. “Voloshin’s desire to establish total control by the president over the entire country,” is said to stand behind this bill.