Russia's Oligarchy

By vanden Heuvel, Katrina | The Nation, February 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

Russia's Oligarchy


vanden Heuvel, Katrina, The Nation


The cover-up is ending in Moscow and Washington. Even President Boris Yeltsins Russian loyalists now admit publicly what has been increasingly evident for months: He is unlikely ever to return to office as a healthy leader, no matter how long he nominally holds the position. Meanwhile, Yeltsin's erstwhile partners in the Clinton Administration now insist, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it in an interview on Meet the Press, Our relationships with Russia are based on where they're going, other people in the government."

The Russian political and financial class, which has profited richly from Yeltsins regime, is terrified of a succession struggle that would threaten its control of the country's wealth. In a recent interview, Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovsky announced proudly that he and six other businessmen control 50 percent of the Russian economy. "Russia is undergoing a redistribution of property on a scale unprecedented in history," he boasted. (Berezovsky is reportedly working with ex-Reagan P.R. honcho Michael Deaver to polish his image in the West, following a Forbes article accusing him of being "the godfather of Russias godfathers.")This newly risen oligarchy, whose financial tentacles extend through the political establishment, particularly fears Aleksandr Lebed, the 45-year-old retired general whose anti-corruption crusades and peacemaking role in ending the Chechen War have made him the most popular political figure in Russia today. Indeed, according to recent polls, if fair elections were to be held within ninety days of Yeltsins resignation or death, as required by the Constitution, Lebed would win.

In response to a question I put to him in New York in January, Lebed told me he didn't believe fair elections would be held. "Ordinary Russians are now as far from the real levers of power as dley were during Soviet Communist Party rule, and the oligarchy loathe and fear me. They are already scheming to avoid general elections. …

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