Chubais’ post and career on line for Moscow power failure

Christopher Kenneth

MOSCOW — UES CEO Anatoly Chubais, the ubiquitous and multifaceted figure on the Russian political and financial Olympus since the early 1990s, faces the toughest period in his scandalously checkered career this week as the Kremlin and other political decision-makings centers hold him responsible for the power failure that put Moscow and outlying regions into total darkness unknown in the capital since Adolf Hitler’s siege of the city during WWII.

According to official reports, a huge fire outbreak which was accomplished by explosions on May 24 at a power-generating substation in Moscow suburbs, belonging to Mosenergo, an electricity company owned by Unified Energy Systems (UES), ignited a cascade reaction that led to electricity shutdown to thousands of apartments and about 20 Moscow hospitals, public means of transportation and traffic lights, leading to one of the biggest traffic jams ever in the city. About 45 subway trains with several thousands of passengers got stuck in the tunnels, several more in lifts and other electrically operated devices in the capital and beyond.

A dodged and crooked fighter generously endowed with gift to exit life-threatening situations mostly unscathed, Chubais will have to mobilize all his innate survival mechanisms this time around as he faces charges from all quarters — from stranded pensioners, students and office workers on Moscow streets, the Kremlin, State Duma to the General Prosecutor’s Office — where he has been summoned for questioning by prosecutors on the role he and other top UES executives had played, or failed to play, in the events that ignited the power crisis.

Depending on the outcome of the interrogations and the answers provided by Chubais at the meeting, “top UES managers may be charged with abuse of authority and negligence in performance of official duty, respectively Articles 201 and 293 of the Russian Penal Code,” according to Natalya Vishnyakova, spokesperson for the General Prosecutor's Office. “The work of each executive responsible for power supply will be evaluated along with the overall amount of damages caused by the failure during the investigations. Violations of citizens’ rights were obviously significant, as people’s lives and health were put under threat during the power failure.”

The swift reaction of the General Prosecutor’s Office to the power failure was highly expected, especially following the acidic criticism from President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov on the UES management. “The whole responsibility for this electricity failure in Moscow and several regions lies entirely with the UES management,” Putin said from Vyoshensky, a village near the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, where he was attending a ceremony dedicated to the hundredth-year anniversary of the birthday of Noble literature laureate Mikhail Sholokhov. “The UES management should not only be concerned with reforms and strategic global-energy issues, but it should also be concerned with day-to-day operations and timely maintenance of facilities.”

Commenting on the issue at a Cabinet meeting earlier today, Fradkov reiterated the poor-management charges against top UES executives, noting that their ineffective actions had endangered thousands of lives and social amenities in the affected regions. “A lot of people were placed in highly dangerous and uncomfortable situations during the power failure caused by poor management and maintenance of the company’s facilities.” Whilst Gryzlov noted that a thorough analysis is needed to understand the nature of factors that led to the power failure. “The State Duma Committee for Energy, Transport and Communications will prepare an in-depth report on the power failure, which will form the basis for deciding the next line of action on this issue,” he added. “A special parliamentary commission might be set up to look into this issue and the whole power system in the country.”

Meanwhile, other State Duma legislators who are not ready to wait for a commission's report are already yearning for Chubais’ head. Dmitry Rogozin, a fiery nationalist with personal hatred for Chubais, said he would put up a motion for sacking Chubais from the head of UES at a State Duma session on May 27.

Chubais has already accepted full responsibility for the power failure and offered apologies to those who had suffered from the blackout and its related consequences. “I’m aware of the president’s position. There cannot be two opinions on this accident in the energy-providing company, and this also includes the CEO’s responsibility.” It, however, remains to be seen how Chubais will survive this energy episode, and keep his post and political career intact.