Opinion: Revenge of the oligarchs or just spinning the spin?

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MOSCOW, September 8 (RIA Novosti political commentator Peter Lavelle). The rumor of an oligarchic coup against the Kremlin is truly stuff from the lunatic fringe.

The oligarchs have no intention of banding together to take on Vladimir Putin or his soon-to-be-announced successor. Evidence suggests the oligarchs are doing just the opposite - trying to ensure the transfer of power is as smooth as possible and beneficial to both the Kremlin and the world of big business.

The Moscow rumor mill is rarely edifying, but it is always entertaining. It is never very clear if Kremlin-sponsored or freelance spin doctors are reacting to news or are simply interested in creating news to later comment on the same. The recent raft of stories that Russia's super-wealthy, known as the oligarchs, are banding together and looking to establish an alliance with left-wing radicals to overthrow the existing power structure simply does not make any sense.

The premises for a coup against the authorities include the following:

According to Sergei Markov, director of Political Studies Institute, "The government's goal is to form a powerful anti-oligarchic coalition by 2008 and prevent a state coup." He has also said, "The alliance between Berezovsky, Gusinsky and Khodorkovsky and left-wingers has been taking shape for some time already, but Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and his supporters are not yet enough corrupt and immoral to join those who see Russia as an occupied territory and its people as the subject of exploitation. That's why oligarchs will have to seek an alliance with radicals."

Valery Khomyakov at the National Strategy Council has said, "Big business has several methods to get into power. It's buying up the regions and bribing authorities, buying up energy resources and controlling the media."

Maxim Dianov, director of the Institute for Regional Problems, argues: "Big businessmen, including Alfa Group managers, attacked Russia's political course, stressing the necessity for a new political party and participation in elections. Oleg Sysuyev, deputy chairman of Alfa Bank's board of directors, joined the Committee 2008." Dianov has also been reported as stating that Putin's recently-announced new social programs - to the tune of $4 billion - are unlikely to delight the oligarchs.

Boris Kagarlitsky, the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies, claims "Putin makes one statement for liberals, another for the former KGB officers, one more for foreign states, and still another for his own people."

What all the statements above have in common are a denial of politics and an attempt to deflect public attention.

Markov's comment that the Kremlin aims to "form a powerful anti-oligarchic coalition by 2008 and prevent a state coup" is curious at best. When is the last time anyone came across an anti-Kremlin oligarch in Russia? In the wake of the Yukos affair, one oligarch after another has publicly met with Putin to discuss the present and future. It would appear that Markov's thesis should be turned on its head - the Kremlin and the oligarchs are working together to ensure a peaceful, and even democratic, transition of power in 2008. It is bizarre to suggest that the Communists are interested in throwing their lot in with the likes of Berezovsky, Gusinsky and Khodorkovsky. Since 1996, the Communist Party has been content to be a minor player in politics and has shied away from ever being put into a position of authority and responsibility. During the upcoming election season, the same should be expected from them.

Khomyakov is clearly out of step with the times. Big business can no longer "buy up the regions and bribe authorities, buy up energy resources and control the media" the way it could before Putin came to power. Again, the lessons of the Yukos affair have been learned by the oligarchs.

Dianov's reference to Alfa Bank being involved in, or even behind, a coup attempt most certainly is the result of a report issued by the bank last month on possible scenarios forecasting Russia's political future. Many a spin doctor has cited this report, though it would seem few have actually read it. If they had, they would probably not be citing it as "evidence" for an impending coup.

Dianov is not alone in claiming that the recently identified $4 billion budget expenditures for next year are unlikely to please the oligarchs. Oddly, those spin doctors who make this claim do not explain why this is the case. Governments all over the world use budget expenditures to influence voters - why the Kremlin should not do the same is left unspoken.

Kagarlitsky's inference that Putin wants to be all things to all the people - as if the Kremlin is in panic mode - is strikingly naive. Being the all things to all people is probably the best definition of a politician imaginable and Putin is doing what should be expected of him as president.

The only meaningful conclusion one can draw from the above comments is that the practitioners of spin are looking for work as Russia's 2007-8 political season nears - even if they have to invent conspiracy theories for fellow spin doctors to comment on. For most of Russia's spin doctors, a successful and stable transition of power during the upcoming election is an anathema - it would put them out of business.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

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