Cultural Revolutions

Arrest of Media Magnate

Vladimir Putin's war on the Russian oligarchs may have begun with the arrest of media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky in June, or so many Western observers hoped. Although Gusinsky was later released (after pledging to remain in Russia during the course of an embezzlement investigation against him), few in or out of Russia doubt that the Kremlin means business. After briefly bemoaning threats to "freedom of speech," many analysts in Europe and America have begun to view Putin as a Russian Pinochet who will sit on the oligarchs and ram through much-needed market reforms.

Such wishful thinking is a source of amusement to those of us who spend our time watching the machinations that have driven Russia to the brink of collapse. In fact, Gusinsky has been the target of the "family"—the cabal of insiders who ran Russia under Boris Yeltsin—for some time. Yeltsin, however, had an odd way of pulling Gusinsky's fat out of the fire whenever his nemesis, Boris A. Berezovsky, had drawn a bead on Gusinsky. Yeltsin preferred a certain balance among the oligarchs, preserving his role as arbiter in a den of thieves.

But Yeltsin is retired now, and the "family" did not arrange for Vladimir Putin to be elected president merely to preserve the status quo. They're aiming at a conclusion that Yeltsin would never have permitted: Gusinsky must be crushed, preferably by seizing his property. This...

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