Chubais' Career Marked By Relentless Efficiency

As Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin lectured his underlings at last week's expanded government session at the White House, Anatoly Chubais sat next to him, paying little mind. Instead, he batted away on his laptop computer, living up to his image as a man concerned more with the efficiency of governance than the niceties of politics.


In turning to Chubais -- for the second time -- to run the Russian economy, President Boris Yeltsin is hoping to channel that relentless attention to administration to jumpstart the government's stalled reforms. Chubais has a track record of pushing reforms through Russia's slow-moving bureaucracy -- and of making bitter enemies along the way.


The leader of a group of economists from St. Petersburg, Chubais, now 41, took his first government post in November 1991 as head of the State Property Committee, masterminding the biggest sell-off of state assets in history.


In Western circles, the quick transfer of 70 percent of a once centrally planned economy into private hands was hailed as Russia's biggest achievement.


Despite criticism at home, Chubais survived in his post when other leading reformers, such as Boris Fyodorov and Yegor Gaidar, were squeezed out of government after the triumph of nationalists in the December 1993 State Duma elections.


By the summer of 1994 the first, voucher stage of privatization was complete. Chubais graduated to first deputy prime minister for the economy that November, shortly after the "Black Tuesday" ruble crash. Acting in concert with the Central Bank, over the next several months he set inflation on a firm downward course, concluded a $6.5 billion standby loan with the International Monetary Fund and implemented the Russian ruble corridor.


Chubais then turned his attention back to the sell-off of state property by engineering the loans-for-share scheme in the fall of 1995. Government stakes in prize blue-chips were granted to insider banks for loans at knock-down prices, triggering renewed criticism of the entire privatization process.


After the Communist success in the December 1995 Duma elections, Chubais became the fall guy. Yeltsin sacked him in January, blaming him not just for the ills of privatization but, as he put it, "for everything."


Chubais was out, but he did not remain down for long. The bankers who had benefitted from privatization pushed for his appointment as chief of the president's re-election campaign. In a behind-the-scenes partnership with Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, Chubais directed a Western-style campaign replete with big promises and rock concerts that brought the incumbent up from the single digits at the start of the year to a convincing 55 percent to 40 percent win over Gennady Zyuganov in July's second round.


The appointment of Chubais as Kremlin chief of staff for the second term placed him at the center of politics, with the president out of commission with heart trouble. Communist and nationalist foes howled that Chubais had become Russia's "regent."


Chubais is not one to shrink from playing hardball to get his way. He turfed out influential presidential bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov and the "party of war" last June.


Enterprises as well as politicians cross Chubais at their own risk. One story, from his first tour as first deputy prime minister, has him telling managers at Nizhnevartovskneftegaz that he would have all the company's bank accounts frozen if their back taxes were not paid within a week. Days later, the money reached Moscow.