10 May 2004
Last Wednesday was a very bad day for well-known Moscow lawyer Anatoly Blinov. First he was hauled in and interrogated for eight hours by agents from the Interior Ministry's organized crime task force, GUBOP. The next day he was shipped off to Ufa, capital of Bashkortostan, and locked in a holding cell. The man behind all this unpleasantness seems to be Ufa businessman Vasily Peganov, head of Navoil, who is locked in a dispute with Blinov over Moscow-based Imidzh Bank.
When the central authorities are incapable of controlling the entire country, it allows certain regions to become hereditary principalities.
This is the case in Chechnya, where Ramzan Kadyrov looks set to continue the family dynasty founded by his father, the late President Akhmad Kadyrov.
Or take Bashkortostan, where President Murtaza Rakhimov will likely be succeeded by his son Ural. As the crown prince, he has already been accorded the prize asset of his father's fief, its petrochemical industry.
In regions like these the local siloviki mutate into janissaries and pull stunts so outlandish -- like getting into shootouts with federal troops -- that they amaze even jaded Russians.
Bashkortostan stands in roughly the same relation to the Russian Federation as did the khanate of Kokand to imperial Russia, which annexed the khanate in 1876. Officially it is one of Russia's 89 constituent parts, but it plays by its own rules. On his own authority, the deputy minister of the regional Interior Ministry can determine how much oil will be shipped by the region's oil companies. Interior Minister Rafael Divayev can sign an official contract with a charitable foundation headed by a three-time former convict that would put a little jingle in both their pockets. When this former convict, a certain Fomichev, was pinched for passing $150,000 in counterfeit currency, Divayev turned up in court and announced that the bills had been bought up as part of a special police operation.
All the same, it's remarkable when agents fly into Moscow from a medieval khanate and make off with a lawyer who failed to give an Ufa businessman his cut of some deal. Apart from anything else, this is an unprecedented slap in the face to the federal authorities.
Why did all this happen to a Moscow lawyer? I have a modest hypothesis. Blinov's arrest was linked to the recent Bashkir presidential election.
The Kremlin was far from happy with the situation in Bashkortostan. As a result, Rakhimov acquired a serious opponent for the presidency, Mezhprombank chief Sergei Veremeyenko, a close associate of Kremlin insider Sergei Pugachyov. Veremeyenko forced Rakhimov to a runoff, prompting the Bashkir incumbent to make the trip to Moscow for a heart-to-heart with Putin. Shortly thereafter an order was sent to Ufa: Shut down Veremeyenko's campaign headquarters and seal the door.
It's said that the unspoken condition for sealing the door was that Gazprom would take control of the republic's petrochemical companies, which were consolidated into offshore holdings shortly before the election.
Veremeyenko's campaign was shut down and Rakhimov won re-election with nearly 80 percent of the vote. The prosecutor who secured the arrest of shares in the republic's petrochemical companies was killed a few days after the election. Veremeyenko's campaign workers began getting into automobile accidents with alarming regularity.
I won't go into the question of whether control of the Bashkir petrochechemical industry ought to be transferred into other hands. The point is that, so far as the market can discern, Gazprom has received nothing yet.
It would seem that the Bashkir siloviki who silently followed the behind-the-scenes battle between Putin and Rakhimov for control of the region's petrochemical wealth have reached their own, purely practical conclusions.