“It’s real and it’s fighting not just about personalities but over the strategy of Russia’s development,” said Sergei Markov, a political adviser who has worked closely with the Kremlin. “It’s about who is going to be the major engine of Russian strategy — big business or the state? It’s also about foreign policy — is Russia going to continue to turn toward the West or not? It’s a real struggle.”
The struggle has reached such a pitch that widespread reports circulated late Tuesday that Putin’s chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, leader of the Kremlin wing that favors economic liberalization, was on his way out. Several sources close to the Kremlin said they were told that Voloshin had prepared a letter of resignation. The Kremlin press service Tuesday night said it could neither confirm nor deny the reports.
Voloshin’s departure has been rumored many times before, but never so intensively. Even some who discounted previous speculation said they thought that this time Voloshin would leave, if not immediately then after the Dec. 7 parliamentary elections. Many reformers would interpret his exit as the final victory of the secret service faction, known as the siloviki, or men of power.
Voloshin, a cryptic backroom player, leads a group of holdovers from President Boris Yeltsin’s administration known as “the family” that also includes Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and remains close to the businessmen known as “oligarchs,” such as Khodorkovsky. In private, Voloshin has made clear his antipathy for the siloviki, as well as his increasing inability to rein them in.
Last summer, after prosecutors began investigating Khodorkovsky and his team, Voloshin was asked by a foreign visitor whether he could stop the campaign. “I hope so,” he told the visitor, according to a source familiar with the conversation. But he added he was not sure he could.
Other Kremlin officials affiliated with that group have privately told acquaintances since the weekend, when Khodorkovsky was arrested, that they are despairing and looking for ways to leave. Their grievances have become public through surrogates who have been increasingly forceful in their criticism of Putin and his circle of KGB veterans.
“In my view, the president is under the spell of forces I warned him about — those forces that are quite close to the president and use this proximity to misinform him,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who worked for Putin’s successful campaign in 2000, said in a commentary in the Vremya Novostei newspaper Tuesday.
Pavlovsky, who recently warned that the siloviki were in effect organizing a coup, compared them to Soviets of old. “The goal of these people is to seize control over the political center of the country,” he said on Gazeta.ru, an Internet news site. He took on Putin as well, calling the president’s statement Monday that the Khodorkovsky case was simply a matter for prosecutors “a textbook argument from the Stalin era.”
The leaders of the siloviki within the Kremlin, according to insiders and analysts, are deputy chiefs of staff Viktor Ivanov and Igor Sechin, both former KGB agents. Khodorkovsky’s associates contend that the two men have personally led the drive against him.