Chubais, the man who sold Russia to the oligarchs, escapes assassins

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The Independent Online

The Yeltsin-era politician, Anatoly Chubais, popularly known as the "Father of the Oligarchs", has survived a roadside assassination attempt.

Now head of the state-controlled electricity monopoly, Mr Chubais is often blamed for creating Russia's modern-day oligarchs because of his decision to place the country's fabulous wealth in the hands of just two dozen businessmen in the early 1990s.

He was on his way to work yesterday morning when his attackers struck. A powerful mine, packed with bolts and screws, exploded shortly after his armoured BMW had passed over it, forcing a second car carrying his bodyguards to halt on a quiet tree-lined avenue outside Moscow.

At least two attackers, clad in winter camouflage, opened fire on the convoy with Kalashnikov assault rifles from the roadside. Mr Chubais' bodyguards, former special forces troops, returned fire, but the attackers escaped in a stolen getaway car that was later recovered.

Russian TV showed images of Mr Chubais' car after the incident. Its windscreen was smashed, its bonnet and headlights sprayed with bullets.

Mr Chubais said afterwards that nobody was hurt and that he had "an idea" who had ordered the attempt on his life and would be co-operating with the Russian security service to catch the perpetrator.

"I need to catch him," he told a press conference he called later at the headquarters of Unified Energy System (UES), Russia's largest power firm, which he runs.

Mr Chubais, 49, said he would not be intimidated. "Everything that I have done - in reforming the country's power sector, and in uniting the country's democratic parties - I will continue doing, only with twice the strength," he vowed.

Mr Chubais is a controversial figure and is likely to have a long list of enemies. In an interview last year he revealed that he was aware of three separate contracts that had been taken out on him in a country where scores are still often settled in a hail of gunfire rather than in the courtroom.

He said at the time that the main reason people wanted to see him dead was because they thought he "had sold out Russia". In 1992 as Deputy Prime Minister in charge of privatisation in the first government of Boris Yeltsin, Mr Chubais unleashed Russia's biggest, fastest and boldest privatisation.

Within a matter of years 80 per cent of the economy was in private hands. His methods were crude. He allowed a handful of pushy, well-connected businessmen to snap up assets at auction for bargain prices in exchange for loaning the government money, promising to invest in the newly acquired assets and lending the Kremlin their political support.

Chubais argued that such methods were vital if the Communists were not to get back into power. But while he may have spawned a handful of super-rich oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich, ordinary Russians fared less well. They were given privatisation vouchers which later turned out to be worthless, and saw their living standards collapse.

As a result Chubais, who is himself worth several million dollars, became a figure of hate for the old dispossessed left.

One theory is that the attack was linked to Mr Chubais' attempts to streamline UES, a process that risks upsetting some of Russia's most powerful business interests.

Another is that it was a warning for him not to become too active in politics, an arena where he has positioned himself in staunch opposition to President Vladimir Putin.