Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin last week accused top officials in the Finance Ministry of embezzling $18 million.
On February 13, Bastrykin announced
that an investigation into Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak and former Deputy Finance Minister Vadim Volkov is "nearing completion and the case will soon be sent to court."
Both are accused with embezzlement in relation to an agreement to settle Russia's debt to Algeria. Storchak was released in October
pending trial after spending nearly a year in prison. Volkov is still in custody.
The case has long been viewed
as part of a battle between the security service veterans, or "siloviki" surrounding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the technocrats in the Finance Ministry. That fight is intensifying
as Russia's economic crisis deepens, and members of the government's "economic bloc" edge closer politically to President Dmitry Medvedev.
Writing in the online magazine "Yezhednevni zhurnal
" today, Maksim Blant suggests that the siloviki are setting up Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin as a scapegoat who will take the blame for the Russia's economic woes:
Particularly after the Yukos case, there is no doubt that the General-Prosecutor's Office is in the habit of carrying out politically motivated prosecutions on behalf of the siloviki. But it is also obvious that Bastrykhin and those ordering this case aren't really interested in Storchak and Volkov. The main target is Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin.
In Russia, prime ministers traditionally take the fall for economic crises. But Putin, of course, is no ordinary prime minister. Having Kudrin as a scapegoat, the logic goes, lets Putin off the hook.
The question remains, however, whether Putin will allow Kudrin to take the fall. The two are believed to be very close, having worked together since the early 1990s when both served in the St. Petersburg local government. Kudrin is rumored to be one of the few officials allowed to use the familiar "ty" form with Putin when the two speak privately (although, as with most rumors of this type, this is nearly impossible to confirm).
It is unclear whether such closeness to Russia's "national leader" will be enough to save Kudrin from what appears to be an impending attack from the siloviki.
-- Brian Whitmore