Little money, big scandal in Moscow Yeltsin aides: Leading reformers fall as Russia's robber barons clash.

November 22, 1997

THE TALE OF how six Moscow bankers -- formerly little-known cogs in the Soviet system -- came to control Russia's post-communist economy involves ruthless machinations and collusions. Some of the main characters not only have bought access to the highest levels of Kremlin decision-making but make the decisions themselves.

Don't expect exposes about this economic power grab any time soon.

Instead, Russian media controlled by the bankers are now having a field day with the doings of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly B. Chubais, a leading liberal reformer in President Boris N. Yeltsin's government. So far, Mr. Chubais has been stripped of one post as finance minister and three of his lieutenants have been fired for accepting $90,000 authors' fees that could be construed as bribes.

In a country where a good monthly salary equals $150, $90,000 would seem to be a lot of money. And it is -- for ordinary people. For Russia's robber-barons, though, it is peanuts.

Mr. Chubais and his friends showed bad judgment in accepting the hefty authors' fees from one of the bankers who benefits from government decisions. But the real reason they are in trouble is that they discontinued the cozy arrangements under which each of the six bankers took turns enriching themselves through state-controlled privatization of the former Soviet Union's assets.

Interestingly, members of the communist-dominated parliament now are after Mr. Chubais, not the powerful bankers. Mr. Chubais is an easy target. Most ordinary Russians detest the reformer because he is the architect of privatization, which has caused much hardship and uncertainty for wage-earners.

Instead of scapegoating Mr. Chubais, Russian parliamentarians ought to focus on the unhealthy and corrosive collusion between the government and the six bankers. That's where the skeletons are buried.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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