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Analysis: Chubais Under Fire

Anatolii Chubais answering questions during a press conference on 17 March The 17 March attempted assassination of Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais, the architect of Russia's much-maligned 1990s privatization program, rocked Russia's political elite and the country's security community. Although Chubais is one of the most widely disliked people in Russia, such a brazen assault on one of the country's leading national political figures is unheard-of, even in the notoriously violent post-Soviet Russia.

In the late evening of 17 May, police detained Vladimir Kvachkov in connection with the case. Although the Defense Ministry denied it, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 March that Kvachkov is a retired colonel in Russian military intelligence (GRU). According to the daily, Kvachkov commanded a special-forces unit in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union's war there, and RTR on 18 March identified him as an explosives expert. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Kvachkov is suspected of organizing the attack on Chubais "on ideological grounds and based on personal enmity." Russian media on 18 March reported that Kvachkov has denied involvement in the incident.

Although the Russian media's coverage of the assassination attempt has emphasized the high level of professionalism demonstrated by Chubias's security retinue in the incident, it has failed to probe the likely fact that he was under the protection of the Kremlin's Federal Protection Service (FSO), the Russian counterpart of the U.S. Secret Service, although mentioned this in passing on 17 March.

The FSO is one of the most secretive and powerful of Russia's security agencies, responsible for -- among other things -- the personal security of President Vladimir Putin and senior government and administration figures. Its headquarters is located on the Kremlin grounds and it is certainly participating in the investigation of the attack on Chubais. Some analysts believe this means there is a greater chance that this crime will be successfully prosecuted, unlike other high-profile killings in the post-Soviet period.

Former President Boris Yeltsin, under whom Chubais launched his privatization program, was the first to telephone him after the incident, NTV reported on 17 March. Putin also phoned, asking Chubais to tell him personally the details of the incident. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov called the crime "blasphemy," while Duma Security Committee Chairman Colonel General Vladimir Vasilev (Unified Russia) said those who ordered and carried out the attack will not go unpunished, RBK reported on 17 March.

As might be expected, Chubais's political enemies were quick to seize the opportunity to play up public antagonism toward him. Deputy Duma Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said the attack was "a signal to the pro-Western democratic forces that they should cease their activity, return their money [to the state], and move away to the West," "Novye izvestiya" reported on 17 March. Zhirinovskii added that the attack might have been organized by the Communist Party and Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin. Informed of this charge, the populist Rogozin responded: "No, it was not us who organized the attack. If it had been us, we wouldn't have missed."

Too Many Enemies

Most objective observers agreed that Chubais simply has so many enemies that it is impossible to speculate on who might have been behind the attack. Most analysts have focused on three possible motives -- political, economic, and the possibility that Chubais himself staged the incident.

Although Chubais has long been a major political player, he has also taken pains to keep a relatively low profile. Even when he was presiding over privatization in the mid-1990s, he was never a public politician. He has a well-known self-deprecating sense of irony and often jokes about his strongly negative image among the Russian public and journalists. Even though he has long served as an ideologue for Russia's liberal movement, he has never run for elected office. After the defeat of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) in the December 2003 Duma elections, he stepped down as party co-chairman and has kept a low political profile ever since. Just a few days before the attempt on Chubais's life, "Profil," No. 9, published a statement from him saying that the old leaders of the liberal and democratic forces should leave the political scene in order to facilitate the consolidation of the fractured right wing of Russia's political spectrum. He said that this statement "absolutely" applies to him. "No new leaders will emerge as long as we stay," Chubais said.

Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada, who is also a former SPS co-chairwoman, ruled out the possibility of a political motive for the attack, reported on 17 March. "Chubais posed no political threat, as he in fact had already announced that he has left politics," Khakamada said. Russian Financial Corporation President Andrei Nechaev, who was also one of the liberal reformers in the 1990s, also commented that the idea of political motive behind the attack is absurd. "The liberal camp is so weak and so divided that there is nothing that can be done with it," Nechaev told TV-Tsentr on 17 March. "And it is equally stupid to think that Chubais's death could consolidate it."

Deputy Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, however, found the political motive plausible and pointed his finger at Putin's nemesis, self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii. "Chubais has been reproached recently for being a roadblock in the formation of a united right flank of Russian politics. Some former oligarchs, such as ones living in Israel and Britian, including Berezovskii, are insisting on this [consolidation]. They keep saying they want to shape this process as they like, but Chubais is standing in their way."

Duma Veterans Committee Chairman Army General Nikolai Kovalev (Unified Russia), a former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), rejected any political motive. "In post-Soviet Russian, there have been almost no political murders," he told on 17 March. "About 99.9 percent of them were linked to money, finances. That is [our] reality." Kovalev said the organizers of the attack can be found among the heads of Russia's leading energy companies. He also said that the attack on Chubais, from a professional point of view, looks more like a "warning" than a serious attempt to kill him. "The criminals used an explosive device that produced minimal fragments and they opened fire on the car of Chubais's bodyguards [after Chubais's car had already left the scene], which is senseless from a professional point of view," Kovalev said.

Kovalev also rejected the idea that Chubais or someone else staged the attack. "It is very difficult to keep the preparations for a staged terrorist attack secret," Kovalev said. Vasilev, who before being elected to the Duma was deputy interior minister, agreed that the attack was not staged. "The attack was not staged, as it was too arrogant and was carried out by people who understand only the language of violence," he told NTV on 17 March. reported on 17 March that an unidentified FSB source also rejected the theory that the attack had been staged, but he speculated that it might have been a warning. "The attackers acted in a way that indicates they had no real intention of liquidating Chubais. If they had wanted to kill him, they would have," the source was quoted as saying. He added that he believes there most likely was an economic motive behind the attack. He concluded that the investigation of the incident, which will be supervised by the FSO, could spell the end of Chubais's public career.

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov (Unified Russia) commented that the array of possible political and economic motives in the Chubais case leads him to a despairing conclusion, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 March. "In fact, it is difficult to separate one from another, and all this means that the criminal revolution of the 1990s continues today," he said.