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The Attack on Russia’s Last Institution

What started as a small rumor voiced in German press has finally hit the front pages of a major Western outlet: the Guardian is reporting on the corruption allegations that Vladimir Putin has amassed a $40 billion fortune. This article is an earth shattering demonstration that VVP himself has been dragged into the center of the clan wars which have roiled the country over the past number of months. This front page story in the Guardian demonstrates that at least one of the clans is so afraid that Putin may not be president that they have launched an all out offensive to further de-legitimize the Russian leader, remove his impunity, and make it impossible for him to leave office. Behind the story is the political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky, who has given a new interview to the Guardian’s Luke Harding to rival the bomb-dropping of the “velvet reprivatization” story in Kommersant. Belkovsky claims that Putin conceals his holdings behind a “non-transparent network of offshore trusts” to control 37% of Surgutneftegaz (worth $20 billion), 4.5% of Gazprom, and about 75% of the shadowy oil trading company “Gunvor.” I continue to stress to that the real campaign in Russia is not one of a candidate before the voting public, but rather is one amongst the clans, which has been up until the Oleg Shvartsman interview, was well hidden yet bitterly fought. A front page story like this leaked to the Western press, exactly around the time of the selection of Dmitri Medvedev, does not happen by accident. It is a clear personal attack on the impunity of the president, and whoever has fired this shot at the top, is fighting desperately for their political and physical survival. It is far too early to say very much at all about the Belkovsky allegations or who is behind them, but the early betting from Moscow says that Viktor Cherkesov, head of the government’s anti-narcotics division and chief rival of Igor Sechin, may be the person behind the leak – however these are just the preliminary soundings and speculations. Whatever may be the further permutations of this infighting, given that Putin has become the last institution of Russia the destructive potential of these events cannot be exaggerated. Stay tuned here as the situation continues to unravel. UPDATE: Journalist and author Steve LeVine is discussing the same story from a different perspective over at his blog The Oil and the Glory.