Dmitri Litvinovich: Railway minister’s last whistle

Russian Railway Ministry chief Nikolai Aksyonenko, suspected of exceeding his authority and embezzling public funds, has agreed to assist investigators in all possible ways. “I think this statement will be the last one made on my part until the end of the proceedings, and I hope that the officials involved will be guided by law, common sense, and by the accepted ethics that prevent one from coming to premature conclusions,” the minister is quoted as saying. Mr. Aksyonenko’s words may well be viewed as putting a good face on the matter. On the other hand, one cannot regard him as a bad player on the political field. Being 52 years old, Mr. Aksyonenko can boast of a fabulous career that many would have envied. In 1999, the post of the premier, the highest position in the bureaucratic hierarchy, was within his reach. However, as fate willed, Sergei Stepashin became prime minister then. Messrs. Aksyonenko and Stepashin are said not to have been on good terms since then. Analysts are now guessing who may have initiated criminal proceedings against the incumbent rail minister. The press name two most likely candidates, that is, Sergei Stepashin (who now heads the Audit Chamber) and Oleg Deripaska, a well-known aluminium magnate. Officials at the Audit Chamber have been mean for comment, but the fact of personal enmity have been mentioned. Moreover, in the first quarter of the running year, a report appeared on the Internet of an audit of the Railway Ministry prepared by the Audit Chamber for the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament). Embezzlement of public funds was the first and foremost theme in the report. It was exactly that audit that was the basis for launching criminal proceedings. The second figure, Oleg Deripaska, who has repeatedly criticized Mr. Aksyonenko’s understanding of the reform in the railways might also have contributed to Mr. Aksyonenko’s discrediting (he denies his involvement, though). Knowing the intimacy between Mr. Deripaska, incumbent presidential administration chief Voloshin, and his deputy Surkov, such a presupposition is quite correct. Mr. Aksyonenko himself may not have expected such a development and was caught mostly by surprise. Feeling lost, Mr. Aksyonenko immediately tried to appeal to the executive power. But the latter, in the person of Dmitri Kozak, another deputy chief of the presidential administration, has expressed it unequivocally: if Mr. Akasyonenko does no agree with the decision by the Procurator General’s Office, he may appeal to court to defend himself. Mr. Aksyonenko’s future is under the cover of mystery. One thing is clear: he may say “goodbye” to his ministerial position. Some media outlets predict incumbent presidential administration’s chief Aleksandr Voloshin to replace him (the Kremlin seems to have long dreamt of “moving” Mr. Voloshin, with Nikolai Patrushev replacing him). But those are still rumours.


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