Mikhail Kasianov’s enemies chose the most harmless but understandable to voters episode (privatization of the state dacha) of all dubious episodes of his past career to expose. Repute of a dacha swindler is a serious obstacle on the road to presidency.

“I’ll find something else to go into. There are lots of interesting things all around,” Mikhail Kasianov said a couple of months ago describing what he would do if the people did not elect him the president. Speaking of the people, he meant the population. Meanwhile, the people also includes the Kremlin and its inhabitants, and these inhabitants decided that they did not want Kasianov as their boss. In the near future therefore, Kasianov will be busy with something extremely interesting from the point of view of the Prosecutor General’s Office – the matter of illegitimate privatization of the state dacha in Troitse-Lykovo. For the time being, Kasianov the dacha owner is but a witness in the case against a state official who sold the then prime minister the former dacha of Mikhail Suslov (hard-liner and ideologist of Leonid Brezhnev’s Politburo) for a song.

Kasianov is away on vacation at this point. The Prosecutor General’s Office is unlikely to mount an active offensive before his return expected on July 25. “It’s Kasianov’s move now,” political scientist Aleksei Makarkin said. “He will have to make up his mind on his return to Moscow. The conflict will either flicker out or escalate, depending on his decision. The Kremlin does not need an escalation for many reasons, the West’s reaction being one of the most important of them. Should Kasianov decide to get out of politics, he will probably remain a witness, and the whole matter will be kept under the covers. Should Kasianov go on criticizing the Kremlin, however, the events may become truly unpredictable.”

Mikhail Delyagin, Kasianov’s advisor once, thinks differently. He is of the opinion that ex-premier’s political adversaries have effectively cornered him. “Mikhail Mikhailovich must run for president now,” Delyagin opined. “This is a matter of honor now. He has to come back and defend himself. His best possible line of conduct is like this: he never did anything wrong or unlawful and whatever he did was done only with the national leader’s permission and only for the sake of the country. After all, dachas in locations like that are never sold without the president’s personal consent.”

A source in the presidential administration confirms that any operation with land in the government zone (and Troitse-Lykovo belongs to it) requires the president’s permission.

It is always possible to find something to smear the slate of absolutely every senior official in Russia. Information on numerous “suspicious” episodes involving Kasianov was leaked to the media more than once.

On the other hand, “traditional” smearing materials implicating Kasianov are mostly beyond comprehension of ordinary voters. What really happened to the debts to the Czech Republic may even defy understanding by specialists. “Dacha sagas on the other hand are nearly infallible,” Makarkin said. “Back in the early 1990’s, charges of illegitimate acquisition of dachas harmed the repute of many high-ranking state officials and senior officers.” Where Kasianov’s dacha is concerned, the political scientist is convinced that organizers of the campaign against the former prime minister kill two birds with one stone. Suspicions concerning corruption and connection with oligarchs are two major chinks in the armor of Kasianov the candidate. Materials of the criminal case currently unfolding deal with two dachas sold simultaneously, in fact, sold together. Mikhail Fridman of TNK-BP became owner of Sosnovka’s.

There is another important nuance. The dacha scandal affects Kasianov alone. After all, the devious debt payment arrangements some newspapers described with malicious relish were not Kasianov’s own invention. It was a whole bureaucratic chain leading into upper echelons of the government of Russia and some foreign governments as well. Question integrity of the Slavneft auction, and its current owners will be affected.

What is there about Kasianov that scares the Kremlin? His presidential rating is but 1%, his image in the eyes of the people is that of a pro-Western financier and intellectual. He has not even accomplished anything in politics. He merely said on three occasions that the country was being led in the wrong direction without saying what the correct course was. In addition, Kasianov made a trip to Washington where his presidential campaign was allegedly blessed and even financed. That is probably what enraged his former patron. Or else, the national leader is so scared of internal and external enemies that he even fears the opposition represented by Misha 2%.

Kasianov was sent “black marks” at first. Charges were pressed against his former colleagues in the Finance Ministry – ex-deputy minister Sergei Kolotukhin and State Debt Department chief Denis Mikhailov. Kolotukhin is somewhere in France these days, Mikhailov in a detention cell.

“Kasianov is being sent a message to stay away from Russia,” Delyagin said. “His return will be taken as arrogance, and the conflict will flare up. Still, Kasianov does not have any other way out. He has to respond to the challenge and come out the winner. The delivered blow was strong but not fatal by a long shot. Ex-premier’s enemies have done so much harm to their own image already (the YUKOS affair), that society that knows the different between theft of a dacha and an oil company may refuse to credit even valid and well-grounded accusations now.”