Hidden Hand In Moscow's Big Shuffle
Yeltsin's firing of his Cabinet Monday may reflect the power of one tycoon, whose views could shape future of reforms.
Since Russian President Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly fired his whole government on Monday, one name has cropped up constantly: Boris Berezovsky.Skip to next paragraph
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Russia's most prominent business magnate was named by leading newspapers and analysts as an important figure behind the major shakeup. The assumption - still unproven - that he played a key role sums up the interdependent relationship between the Kremlin and business oligarchs in the post-Soviet era.
Mr. Berezovsky epitomizes the so-called "Big 7," feuding tycoons who united briefly in 1996 to fund Mr. Yeltsin's reelection campaign.
In an interview with the Monitor, Berezovsky welcomed the firings of long-serving Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and chief economic reformer Anatoly Chubais. He had disputes with both men over privatizations that failed to benefit his empire, which spans the media, finance, and oil industries.
"I was not surprised [at the news]. I am very happy that my vision coincided with the president's," says Berezovsky, who is in Yeltsin's inner circle.
Berezovsky stopped short of claiming responsibility for the firings.
"I never influenced [Yeltsin] directly, although maybe articles in my newspapers had an impact," he said in the interview.
Who are the 'Big 7'?
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's "Big 7" oligarchs have run conglomerates that now control half of the country's economy.
The new capitalists also include Vladimir Gusinsky, head of the Most banking and media group; Uneximbank boss Vladimir Potanin; Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chief of the Rosprom and Menatep finance groups; Pyotr Aven and Mikhail Friedman of Alfa Bank and Alfa Group; and Alexander Smolensky, president of the SBS-Agro bank group.
Berezovsky, a former mathematician, has built a fortune estimated at $3 billion around his flagship car dealership Logovaz and stakes in banks, media, airlines, and Sibneft, one of Russia's largest oil firms.
His worth, unlike that of his rivals, is mainly believed to be in shareholder assets rather than fixed holdings, but he has dominated the public eye more than other businessmen.
All the new tycoons have politicians they are associated with, but Berezovsky is by far the closest to Yeltsin, having once served as deputy head of the Kremlin Security Council.
He advises Yeltsin's chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, as well as the president's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, one the most influential members of the Yeltsin entourage.
Early hints of a shakeup
Around the time of the Cabinet shakeup, Berezovsky was in suspiciously close contact with the main participants for a man who claimed he only heard about the bombshell on television. Fueling speculation of his involvement was the fact that he rushed back from Switzerland a couple of days before the reshuffle and hinted in a television interview on Sunday that changes were afoot.
He told the Monitor that he had met with the government's two former deputy prime ministers and principal economic reformers, Mr. Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, on Sunday. The object, he says, was to try to settle a "long-term fight, or let's say a misunderstanding."