The Bush-Putin mini-summit was considered by most Moscow pundits to be a success, with the two more or less agreeing to disagree about ABM, nuclear- missile defense (NMD), and NATO expansion—for now, anyway. President Bush did not pressure Vladimir Putin about Chechnya, but one point that he ever-so-gently raised did irk the Little Colonel, according to Kremlin deep throats, whose frequent reports created the impression that the Kremlin walls are about as impregnable as an egg carton. The Americans just won’t let go of the Vladimir Gusinsky affair.
Chronicles readers know the real story: The “media magnate”/oligarch/gangster/ professional Jewish victim Gusinsky was the big loser in the intra-Kremlin intrigues that accompanied Boris Yeltsin’s retirement, with rival clan structures close to Yeltsin (“the family”) ultimately winning the battle to choose Boris I’s anointed successor. After “the family” helped arrange a splendid little war in Chechnya to boost his electoral prospects, ex-KGB officer Putin immediately moved to finish off “the Goose,” with the Kremlin exerting pressure on natural-gas monopoly Gazprom to call in its loans to Gusinsky’s Media Most company, which controlled Russia’s only privately held TV station, N’lV. The “special services” tacked on a few embezzlement charges and other trimmings for good measure, and Gusinsky was soon an oligarch-in-exile, his media assets being absorbed by Kremlin-friendly “businessmen.” End of story, right?
Wrong. The Goose, you see, has powerful friends, being a mover and shaker in the World Jewish Congress, an Israeli citizen with ties to “Russian-speaking” Tel Aviv mafiosi and politicians, and a business partner of the Washington Post and of the establishment weekly Newsweek. He also has a few close friends in the U.S. Congress, most notably Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA). The congressman’s ties to the Goose go back to the mid-1990’s, when Lantos first rose to defend Gusinsky from the 1995 attacks of Yeltsin bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, whose Kremlin security goons were roughing up the Goose’s soldiers. (Think of Korzhakov as Yeltsin’s Lucca Brazzi.) Lantos, an Hungarian import who, like many others, has made a career out of being a professional “holocaust survivor,” instantly saw the wicked hand of Russian fascism—and not the equivalent of a Chicago gang war—behind the attacks. Congress duly passed a resolution in support of “businessman” Gusinsky, and Yeltsin later fired Korzhakov.
Meanwhile, the Goose—possibly through Lantos—was busy networking in the Land of the Free. Lantos’ ally in Congress, Don Bunker, retired to the greener pastures of lobbying (he works for the p.r. and lobbying firm APCO) and took Gusinsky as a client. Gusinsky gained another close personal friend in Robert Strauss, a former ambassador to Russia, head of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, and partner of the law firm/lobbying group Akin Gump. Strauss, who gained a reputation as a man-about-town in Washington while a Democratic Party fixer, helped American businesses profit from the insider privatization deals of the Yeltsin era and, like Bunker, knew a good lobbying opportunity when he saw one: Akin Gump suddenly discovered it was very concerned about “freedom of the press” in Russia and enlisted Toby Goti, freshly retired chief of the State Department’s intelligence division, to remind U.S. congressmen of the importance of global democratization. Akin Gump, APCO, Goti, and Mr. Bunker have been steady contributors to Lantos’ political war chest.
Lantos sponsored a resolution in May, calling on the G-8 group of industrialized powers to kick Russia out in view of its undemocratic behavior toward the Goose (something the high rollers of global democracy did not worry about when Yeltsin was literally blasting the Russian parliament in 1993). The Washington Post, Akin Gump, APCO, and various “friends of Goose” mounted a full-court press on Bush before the summit. The White House counterattacked through the Republican-connected head of the Nixon Center think tank, Dmitri Simes, who pointed out in a letter to the Post that the “Russian oligarchs'” ill-gotten gains were now at work in D.C. “buying the best representation” available, including “former ambassadors, former cabinet members,” and “former senators.” Simes, who has to work in this town, omitted mention of current congressmen.
The President was obviously resisting, but the shift of power to the Democrats in the Senate, his big plans for NMD, and his collapsing political agenda (his obvious defeats on tax cuts and education, for example) meant Bush II could not entirely ignore the siren call of global democracy. Besides, there are those stories circulating about Dick Cheney lobbying for the oil company Haliburton, which has business ties to Russia’s TNK oil company, which is controlled by the Alfa Group, which, in turn, works hand-in-glove with Russian organized crime. So George, Jr., just had to bring up that Gusinsky business again.
Meanwhile, one-time Gusinsky rival and former “Oligarch No. 1” Boris Abramovich Berezovsky (BAB), after falling out with “the family,” arrived in New York along with his wife, under-aged mistress, and assorted burly business associates. BAB is now the object of a Kremlin-backed criminal investigation, so he has set himself up as a defender of Russian democracy and is canvassing his American contacts for potential business partners. The word is out that the Goose is willing to share the influence of his American friends with BAB for a price. What that price might be is anybody’s guess; rumor has it that BAB is seeking an audience with White House officials.
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