In early October, Lebed began associating with Korzhakov, who is strongly linked with defense industrialists and the security establishment. In remarks reminiscent of Aleksandr Rutskoi’s 1993 claim to have suitcases full of compromising material on Yeltsin’s supporters, Korzhakov threatened to reveal damning information about members of the country’s leadership. In a notorious interview with the magazine Litsa, he accused Boris Berezovskii, a businessman and media mogul with close ties to the government, of seeking to arrange the murder of a business rival, Most Bank Chairman Vladimir Gusinskii.1
Korzhakov’s unsubstantiated allegations of crime and corruption in high places painted a highly unflattering picture of Yeltsin’s inner circle, rein-forcing popular images of senior advisers as ruthless and venal. Those allegations came after an election marked by expensive television campaigns widely assumed to be financed by dirty money. The charges also highlighted the cleavages within Yeltsin’s camp. Not since 1993 had corruption allegations and mutual recriminations played such a visible role in politics. From 1994 to June 1996, rival factions within the leadership generally refrained from making public the kompromat they gathered on each other.
The central figure in the allegations against Korzhakov is Boris Fedorov, a banker and businessman who headed the government-controlled National Sports Foundation (NFS) until May 1996. (He should not be confused with former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, who is a deputy in the State Duma.) The NFS was granted huge tax breaks on the importation of alcohol and cigarettes in December 1993. It accounted for 85 percent of all alcohol imports and 60 percent of the tobacco brought into the country.2 Rather than financing sports, much of its profits ended up in private pockets. The NFS’s first head was Shamil Tarpishchev, Yeltsin’s friend and tennis coach, who subsequently became chairman of the Russian State Committee for Sport and Tourism. Tarpishchev was a long-time associate of Fedorov and had close ties to Korzhakov and Barsukov.
The NFS’s import privileges were severely criticized, most notably by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, and were eventually abolished in late 1995. Fedorov came into conflict with Tarpishchev and seems to have switched his allegiance to Chubais. In May 1996, Fedorov was detained outside Moscow and accused of possessing 4.5 grams of cocaine. The drug charges were eventually dropped amid speculation that Fedorov had been framed, but while he was in custody the NFS board replaced him with Valerii Streletskii, a deputy to Korzhakov in the SBP. A few weeks later, on the night of 18-19 June, Fedorov was attacked in central Moscow. He was shot in the abdomen and stabbed several times. Critically injured, Fedorov was evacuated to a clinic in Switzerland.
Fedorov made headlines again in July, when journalist Aleksandr Minkin published excerpts of what he said was a taped conversation between Fedorov and three unnamed interlocutors accusing Tarpishchev of corruption and close ties with notorious Russian gangsters.3 Fedorov was quoted as saying that Tarpishchev had pressed him for huge sums of cash, allegedly to help fund Yeltsin’s re-election campaign as well as to feather the sports chiefs own nest. Korzhakov and Barsukov, Fedorov contended, were well aware of Tarpishchev’s activities. The conversation reportedly took place in April at Berezovskii’s office; the others present are thought to have been Berezovskii, magazine publisher Valentin Yumashev, and Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. The aim of the conversation appeared to be to discredit Korzhakov in the eyes of Yeltsin’s daughter and give Berezovskii – who had once been a close Korzhakov ally – incriminating material on the SBP head. The transcript was presumably not leaked until after the presidential election to avoid discrediting Yeltsin’s team before the vote.
Korzhakov dismissed the tape as part of a long-running power struggle between him and Kremlin rivals now backed by Berezovskii.4 It was clear that the principal rival he had in mind was Chubais, who was instrumental in the June ouster of the hard-liners. Fedorov himself told Komsomolskaya pravda on 27 July that he had had no hand in the publication of the tran-script, claiming that it had been doctored and that he had been set up.
With Fedorov convalescing abroad, the scandal gradually faded from view. In early October, however, Fedorov resurfaced to make a series of new allegations. On the same weekend that Tarpishchev was fired from all his posts, Fedorov gave two long television interviews on the private network NTV and Russian Public Television (ORT), in which he accused Korzhakov and Streletskii of trying to extort $40 million from him. Fedorov explained his earlier denials to Komsomolskaya pravda by saying he had been threatened by Korzhakov’s men.5
By that time, speculation had grown that Lebed was forming an alliance with Korzhakov. The latter had reportedly amassed considerable sums through the NFS and the state arms-export company Rosvooruzhenie, whose head was said to owe his position to Korzhakov. Commentator Pavel Felgengauer described Rosvooruzhenie as a vacuum cleaner that sucks up and redistributes huge sums of public money, which Korzhakov has used for Yeltsin’s election campaign and which he could now deliver to Lebed.6 Korzhakov had said more than once that he was well-informed about the secret lives of Kremlin big shots and was waiting for the right moment to reveal them. Korzhakov’s cash and kompromat could be of great value to Lebed.
The speculation about a Lebed-Korzhakov alliance was confirmed on 13 October, when the two appeared side by side in Lebed’s former Duma constituency of Tula and Lebed called on voters to back Korzhakov’s candidacy in the by-election scheduled for next February. Facing the threat of criminal charges, Korzhakov was presumably keen to gain parliamentary immunity as well as to retain a place in politics.
Chubais is widely assumed to have been behind the reappearance of Fedorov and the sympathetic coverage his accusations received in the media. Chu-bais has close ties with both NTV head Igor Malashenko and Berezovskii, the most influential figure at ORT. Both television stations played an important role in the ouster of Korzhakov and the otherhard-liners. Given the rumors of a Korzhakov-Lebed alliance and the heavy fire that Lebed was under from other members of the government, it seems unlikely that the timing of the programs on Fedorov was coincidental.
Fedorov has now formally filed criminal charges against Korzhakov and Streletskii, and the procurator’s office is investigating the assassination attempt on Fedorov and Korzhakov’s allegations that Berezovskii had sought his help in arranging a hit on the Most Bank chairman. Past experience – with the charges and countercharges of corruption around Rutskoi in 1993 – sug-gests that the kompromat will not see the light of day in court, but will disappear as enigmatically as it surfaced.
1 Litsa, no. 4, October 1996, pp. 11-18.
2 Obshchaya gazeta, 17-23 October 1996, p. 8.
3 Novaya gazeta, 8 July 1996, p. 1.
4 The Washington Post, 11 October 1996.
5 NTV, Itogi, 6 October 1996; Russian Public-Television, Vremya, 1 October 1996.
6 NTV, Itogi, 6 October 1996.