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Russia: Kremlin Maneuvers For Loyalty Of Large Companies Before Election

The head of the Russian oil pipeline monopoly was sacked last week under questionable circumstances. RFE/RL's Moscow correspondent, Sophie Lambroschini, says the sacking is the latest in a series of shake-ups at leading companies, as rival groups vie for power and influence ahead of this year's parliamentary elections.

Moscow, 21 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The head of Transneft, Russia's oil pipeline monopoly, has been dismissed in an ongoing fight for control of the company. The dismissal of Dmitry Savelev featured the usual allegations of Kremlin intimidation and a host of legal violations. It also featured a raid by elite Interior Ministry troops.

It's not yet clear what's behind the move, but Savelev told Russian television last night that the Kremlin was calling the shots. He and others say the dismissal fits a recent pattern by the Kremlin to gain control of important companies ahead of parliamentary elections in December and the presidential vote next year.

News of the dismissal came last week after a hastily arranged shareholders meeting on Monday. The meeting was reportedly ordered by First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko and Oil Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny, who were seeking to fire Savelev for allegedly mismanaging the company and failing to pay dividends to the state.

Savelev is associated with former prime minister Sergei Kiriyenko, a Kremlin rival running for a parliament seat. Savelev headed a local oil company formerly directed by Kiriyenko, and it was during Kiriyenko's brief tenure as prime minister in 1998 that Savelev became president of Transneft.

Following the dismissal, Savelev was replaced by Semyon Vainshtok, vice president of Russia's largest oil company, Lukoil. Savelev, however, refused to comply with the move, saying it violated the law on joint-stock companies.

When Savelev refused to leave the company, Interior Ministry troops were called in to forcibly evict him. Bursting their way into the Transneft office on Thursday, the troops carved a way for the new director by sawing through chains placed on the doors.

Speaking to Russian NTV television last night, Sakelev said the mastermind behind his ouster was alleged Kremlin insider Roman Abramovich. Savelev said Abramovich tried to pressure him into "obedience" by threatening him with trumped-up criminal charges.

Abramovich, the head of the Sibneft oil company, is often associated with Boris Berezovsky, another businessman said to be close to President Boris Yeltsin. For months, Russian media have portrayed both Berezovsky and Abramovich as Rasputin-like figures playing behind-the-scenes politics.

Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Fund, says he thinks the Kremlin was indeed behind the dismissal. He says that with elections just a few months away, the Kremlin cannot accept the idea of not controlling a maximum of resources.

Petrov says the dismissal is similar to recent attempts by the Kremlin to influence events at other important companies, most notably the weapons-producing company Rosvooruzhenie and the gas giant Gazprom.

RFE/RL's economic analyst, Elamr Murtazaev agrees. He says that before the elections, the Kremlin is trying to secure the loyalty of big companies to try to tap into the country's vast resource wealth.

Since the privatization of natural resources began seven years ago, the fight for control of companies in these sectors has been constant. As a key company and still partly state-owned, Transneft was a logical target. Russians are now asking which company will be next.