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Russian Who Led State Sell-Off Escapes Ambush

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A13

MOSCOW, March 17 -- The man who led the post-Soviet sell-off of Russian industry, creating many enemies and a few billionaires in the process, survived an assassination attempt Thursday morning when a roadside bomb detonated as his armored BMW passed a wooded area near his country home outside the capital.

Anatoly Chubais, who heads Russia's state-controlled electricity monopoly, was attacked as he was headed to work in Moscow from an elite residential area where he lives. After the blast, his vehicle came under automatic-weapons fire. His security detail, following in another car, returned fire and scattered the attackers, who escaped into the woods. Chubais and his bodyguards were unhurt.


Russian police officers gather at the site of the assassination attempt against Anatoly Chubais on a highway west of Moscow. (Reuters Television Image)

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"I understand quite clearly who may have organized today's assassination attempt," Chubais, 49, said at a news conference later. "The main thing I can say today is that everything I have done -- regarding both the reform of the country's energy sector and the unification of democratic forces -- I will continue to do with redoubled energy."

He declined to name suspects. Aides said such information would be passed to prosecutors.

The attempt on Chubais's life was the latest in series of high-profile attacks, many of them fatal, that have given a gangland taint to Russian political and business life since the fall of the Soviet Union.

A close friend of Chubais's, Mikhail Manevich, who also helped orchestrate the country's privatization drive, was gunned down in St. Petersburg in 1997. Last year, the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, Paul Klebnikov, was shot dead in Moscow. Numerous other politicians and business people have been killed in the last 14 years, and few of the crimes have been solved.

In an interview with the Financial Times last year, Chubais said he knew of three contracts that had been taken out on him.

"I know all the details and the names of those who were to carry them out," he told the newspaper. "The last contract was taken out 18 months ago. It was on purely political grounds -- hatred that I sold out Russia. When you go home every night and think that there may be an assassin around the corner with an anti-tank launcher, your perception of political risk changes."

In the early 1990s, as deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin, Chubais oversaw the mass privatization of state assets that created extraordinary wealth for a small group of entrepreneurs, who came to be known as oligarchs, while most Russians remained in poverty. The transactions were later widely criticized as a fire sale in which privileged insiders paid artificially low prices.

Chubais's actions made him a reviled figure for many ordinary Russians, though he never accumulated the kind of vast wealth that others reaped from his program.

Chubais has long defended his actions by saying that the rapid turnover of nearly 80 percent of the state economy to private hands, despite the inequities and public revulsion it created, was essential to kill off 70 years of communism.

As the current head of Unified Energy Systems, Chubais is helping to dismantle the world's largest utility into a group of regional companies. Speculation on what motivated the attempt on his life focused immediately on his role under Yeltsin as well as the planned breakup of the electricity monopoly, which has rankled some shareholders, business figures, state officials and employees.

"It must have been linked to difficult processes of redistribution of UES assets," Irina Khakamada, a leading liberal politician, told Echo Moskvy radio.

But Boris Nemtsov, one of Chubais's colleagues in the Union of Right Forces party, which Chubais co-founded, said, "It's clear to me that the attempt on his life had political roots." Chubais has been involved in recent efforts to unite the fragmented opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

Investigators said much of the force from the two-pound TNT bomb missed the car and instead went into the woods just off the Moscow-Minsk highway. The BMW, despite being hit by shrapnel and bullets, managed to keep going. One or two assailants, wearing snow camouflage, escaped in a car parked nearby, investigators said.

Police later found an abandoned Saab that they said might have been used in the attack. Authorities subsequently detained a retired Russian army colonel, an explosives specialist, in connection with the investigation, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency, which cited unidentified law enforcement officials.

Chubais said he spoke with both Putin and Yeltsin after the attack. "I believe law enforcers will track down those who ordered and perpetrated this crime," said Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. Russian law enforcement, however, has a poor record in solving such high-profile crimes.

Some members of the business sector worried that the attack would heighten investors' fears. "It is quite possible that the most cautious investors may, as they say, vote with their feet and withdraw their capital and curtail their projects," said Arkady Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. "Entrepreneurial initiative in this country is still a dangerous matter."


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