Alexei Ulyukaev appeared in court last night and was placed under house arrest until the middle of January. Prosecutors said he posed a flight risk. At about the same time, it was reported that President Putin had sacked the Minister for “loss of confidence”.
This is reportedly the highest ranking arrest since Beria was ousted.
Most of the opinions in Russian circles are still based on speculation. Most people seem to think that Ulyukaev is not even guilty of the crime he has been accused of, that of taking a $2 million bribe to make a decision that likely wasn’t even his to make.
Political analyst Gleb Kuznetsov told Rosbalt:
“This is a demonstration of the determination of the state in the fight against corruption. It demonstrated that we have no untouchable class. That not only a provincial governor of a region can be detained, but also one of the most influential government ministers. He can be prosecuted in the same way as any other person.”
Rosbalt also talked to the director of the Institute for Contemporary State Development, Dmitry Solonnikov:
“It is a hallmark of our time. The heads of regions, and security officials with the rank up to General, are not simply dismissed, but publicly and openly sent into custody. So in that sense, the detention of Ulyukaev seems logical and is not surprising.”
Solonnikov added that it was clear that Ulyukaev was not the only one who was being monitored. “…the control of policymakers is not a secret.”
His speculation was likely correct as the Russian media reported today that four other high-ranking officials were being monitored. They were named as Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, Presidential Aide Andrei Belousov, another official at the Ministry of Economic Development, Oksana Tarasenko, and Marina Romanova, who is an aide to First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov.
Others saw this as a continuation of the fight over an ever-shrinking pie of assets.
Political analyst Yevgeny Negrov told Rosbalt that he thought the fight was not over ideology but rather that “the ultimate beneficiary was some kind of “financial-industrial group”.
The President of the “Center for Political Technologies” Igor Bunin thought the conflict was of a more personal nature between Ulyukaev and Rosneft chief Igor Sechin.
But, as I said yesterday, this seems to be mostly about the continuation of the Kremlin’s faux anti-corruption campaign that they have co-opted from Alexei Navalny.
People are fed up with the corruption they see around them. And performing show trials for TV is an effective way to show people that the authorities are doing something, even though nothing will change.