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Saturday Feature
Prison stint fails to cool Russian colonel's passion for parliamentary seat
Arkady Ostrovsky

          In one of the more bizarre twists of Russian politics, Vladimir Kvachkov, the man accused of an attempt to assassinate Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russian market reforms, will run for parliament next month from his prison cell.
Mr Kvachkov, a retired army colonel who adheres to a nationalist movement that says it wants to liberate Russia from the "Jewish yoke", is doing so after having recently shared cell space and long conversations with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Mr Khodorkovsky, the Jewish oligarch who benefited from the privatisations masterminded by Mr Chubais, was denied a chance to run for parliament before being packed off to Siberia to serve an eight-year sentence for tax evasion -- charges many observers believe are politically motivated.
The trial of Mr Kvachkov, and his election campaign in advance of the December 4 by-election, may become a rallying cry for Russia's ultra-nationalists, who have been gaining momentum in recent months. Xenophobia and nationalism have become central for several mainstream political parties, notably Rodina (Motherland), which won 9.0 per cent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections in 2003.
Mr Kvachkov has requested that he be tried by a jury, in order to espouse his extreme views. In doing so, he could use Mr Chubais, who left government years ago but whose name remains anathema to millions of Russians who blame him for their economic woes, as a lightning rod for ultra-nationalists.
Andrei Zorin, a prominent cultural and political commentator, says: "Regardless of his real guilt, Kvachkov wants to be acquitted not as someone who did not try to assassinate Chubais, but as someone who did." In a recent interview for the ultra-nationalist Zavtra newspaper, Mr Kvachkov stopped short of admitting responsibility for the attack, but said it was not a crime but a "first act of armed force in a national liberation war".
"It's obvious that Russia is under occupation by ethnic aliens -- and therefore it's unacceptable to describe an attempt to eliminate one of the most sinister masterminds of Russia's occupation as an ordinary crime. Destroying occupiers and their accomplices isn't a crime: it's the duty and obligation of every defender of the Fatherland who is true to his military oath," Mr Kvachkov told Zavtra, which has a circulation of 100,000 copies.
Mr Kvachkov, a veteran of the Afghanistan war and an explosives expert, was arrested last March, hours after Mr Chubais's bullet-proof BMW was thrown in the air by an explosion and then shot at by automatic rifles.
According to prosecutor's documents seen by the Financial Times, Mr Kvachkov had put together a group of five people that minutely tracked Mr Chubais' movements for weeks. Mr Chubais was saved by luck; his car was overtaking another one at the moment when the bomb went off.
Mr Kvachkov said the failure of the attack shows that "God will not allow quick and painless death to Chubais but has prepared for him and his gang a more severe punishment".
Mr Chubais, who is chief executive of Russia's electricity monopoly, is only one of Mr Kvachkov's targets. Among the enemies of Russian people, Mr Kvachkov also lists Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Sergei Ivanov, defence minister, blaming them for the "destruction" of the armed forces and for harbouring people like Mr Chubais.
Perhaps paradoxically, Mr Kvachkov finds kind words for Mr Khodorkovsky, his former cell mate.
"Imagine the scene," Mr Kvachkov told Zavtra. "On the upper bunk sits cross-legged a Jewish billionaire-liberal and on the opposite bunk a Russian officer. Political discussions for five-six hours a day. First, the conversation was strained, then open and interesting. At the end of the month it became warm and even friendly."
Mr Khodorkovsky also spoke warmly about his fellow inmate. In his own interview with Zavtra, he said he found many of the colonel's historic and political ideas interesting. "We were and still are, of course, opponents. But this does not mean that in the future we can't have common tasks and projects. He is a good man to have around in a sticky situation."


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