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By John Helmer, Moscow

There are many reasons why, to Russians who suffered through the regime of Boris Yeltsin, Yeltsin’s son-in-law Valentin Yumashev should be regarded with the same contumely as the people of Paris considered Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre-Dame in Victor Hugo’s tale.

Yumashev, who failed to complete a journalism degree but ended up ruling the Russian media, lacks the physical deformities, most of them.  But his attitude is the same. Quasimodo “turned to mankind only with regret”, according to Hugo. “His cathedral was enough for him. It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquillity and benevolence. The other statues, those of monsters and demons, had no hatred for him – he resembled them too closely for that.”

 “When it shall please you to have me to fall,” Quasimodo told the hostile crowd, “you will not have to even utter a word, a glance will suffice.”

Yumashev and Putin have had such a relationship, a reciprocal one as it has turned out. So why is the bell-ringer who has been hiding in the Kremlin towers all these years – why is Yumashev, who calls his occupation a real estate developer, being revealed this month as Putin’s official advisor? The answer, says a Moscow source, is American.  “Yumashev is to Putin as [White House Senior Advisor Jared]  Kushner is to Trump.  Look carefully at their backgrounds;  their sources of money; their methods. Putin has calculated that it is up to Yumashev to negotiate with Kushner an end to the American war on Russia.”

On June 20, at lunch hour, the Kremlin issued a one-line decree in which President Vladimir Putin appointed Yumashev, 60, “Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation on a voluntary basis”.

Source: http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/57831

Yumashev is so notorious in Russian political history, the Kremlin announcement drew immediate questioning from the press. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared that Yumashev had been an advisor to the President for eighteen years, and the decree was a reappointment as routine as Peskov’s reappointment itself;  as well as those of almost all the senior Kremlin staff who served Putin in his last term; their names were issued in a decree published on June 13. 

Yumashev repeated the line. He has been working in the Kremlin administration since Putin was first elected, he said; from this point of view nothing has changed. According to Yumashev, he does not have a clearly defined range of issues to supervise or roles to play. “If you have questions, which will require my experience and knowledge, I always do everything I can,” he is quoted as saying.

Moscow newspapers report that no record has been found of Yumashev’s earlier appointments; some reporters claim to have seen a door with Yumashev’s name on it in the presidential offices at Staraya Ploschad; noone has been reported seeing Yumashev open or close it. The British Broadcasting Corporation’s Russian Service claimed the publication of the decree was a “technical error”; no Russian source believes that.

There is also no record that Yumashev has ever met Putin officially to advise the president on anything. The only mention Putin has made of Yumashev’s name in public was in November 2015, when he thanked him for his work establishing the expensive Yeltsin museum in Yekaterinburg. 

Yumashev’s name appears only once in the Kremlin archive for President Putin. The brief mention occurred at the end of  Putin’s speech at the opening of the Yeltsin Centre in Yekaterinburg on November 25, 2015. Yumashev wasn’t visible in the official photographs of the event, published by the Kremlin. In this one, Yumashev’s wife Tatiana Dyachenko (right) briefs (right to left) her mother Naina Yeltsina, Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov (then chief of the Kremlin staff) at a mock-up of Yeltsin’s Kremlin office. Yumashev was also not present in the front rows of the audience assembled in front of Putin for the speeches inaugurating the centre.  

Yumashev’s career  was a slow rise  from cub reporter in 1976 to editor-in-chief of the Moscow magazine Ogonyok between 1991 and 1995. He was Yeltsin’s public relations manager during the near-miss presidential campaign of 1996; then chief of the president’s staff, succeeding  Anatoly Chubais in 1997. By then Yumashev was closely allied with Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatiana Dyachenko; they were married in 2001.  In 2013 she took Austrian nationality.   For many years before and after, the couple have lived in London. Yumashev and Dyachenko reportedly own control shareholdings in two Moscow city office buildings through a Cyprus offshore company called (after their first names) Valtania Holdings Ltd.

It is unlawful for officials of the presidential administration to hold dual nationality or to own foreign assets without disclosing them. Yumashev has counted on avoiding the law by preserving his official status as “voluntary”. Publication of the June 22 decree of appointment creates a legal complication about which the Kremlin press office is making no comment.

Yumashev is not sanctioned by the US Government, although seven senior members of the presidential staff have been proscribed on the lists issued since 2014 by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  For his role in arranging the presidential  succession from Yeltsin to Putin in 1999, Yumashev outranks all the Putin cronies who have been listed by OFAC.

Russia in safe hands -- the Clinton Administration’s Russian leadership in 1998;  left to right --  Anatoly Chubais;  Yumashev; Yeltsin. For President Bill Clinton’s preferences expressed privately at the time to British Prime Minister Tony Blair read this.  

Yumashev has also been father-in-law to Oleg Deripaska while the latter’s marriage to the former’s daughter Polina continued; Deripaska was sanctioned on April 6, along with his companies.  Yumashev and his daughter are also recorded shareholders of 1.7% and 5.8%, respectively, in the EN+ holding, which controls Rusal.

In fact, Yumashev and Dyachenko have long been more powerful stakeholders in Rusal through a concealed shareholding arrangement with Deripaska as he and Roman Abramovich took over the Russian aluminium industry with Kremlin backing. The Yumashev-Dyachenko stake in Rusal was concealed in what were originally known on Rusal’s Jersey share register as “redeemable shares”. Follow that story into the archives here. At one stage in Rusal’s more prosperous past, the “redeemable shareholders” held rights to about $1 billion in value

Putin’s public appointment of Yumashev has been interpreted in the Russian press as “pro-Western”, but so far the Russian press has not connected Yumashev to Deripaska and Rusal. Instead, the Russian records identify Yumashev and Dyachenko with the original oligarch to start  paying bribes to the Yeltsin family  – Boris Berezovsky – and then with his successor, Abramovich (1st right). The role Yumashev (2nd right) played as Putin’s negotiator of the 2012 deal for Deripaska to suspend his hostile takeover attempt against Vladimir Potanin’s Norilsk Nickel was reported here.  Abramovich paid the bill. The conflict resumed late last year, as the 5-year lockup period of Yumashev’s deal expired; Abramovich prepared to sell to Potanin;  and Deripaska appealed to Putin to favour him again.  Putin has never crossed Deripaska. But he has been reluctant to support him openly in his asset raids.

As the US increased the sanction threats against the oligarchs, Yumashev has become increasingly useful.  For the time being, there is no US or Russian press record of Yumashev meeting with US officials to discuss sanctions in general, or Rusal in particular.

The consensus of Moscow political analysts and observers is that Yumashev represents the political and business faction in favour of capitulation to US terms. “It [Yumashev’s appointment] will be the greasing and appeasing machine for the fifth column,” says  a  leading media veteran from the Yeltsin period.

The Moscow press has reported more guarded statements of the same point. “At present, it is difficult to say with certainty what tasks the President intends to solve with this decision [Yumashev’s appointment],” Alexei Zudin, a Moscow political analyst, told one paper. “But given the public reputation of this figure and the system of associations which has developed around it, perhaps  it is a desire to work with a certain sector of the elite. At least, the figure of Yumashev is perceived as authoritative in rather narrow, but important social environments.”

Nikolai Mironov, another Moscow analyst, reported that Yumashev “can play the role of negotiator for the affairs of Russian business abroad…In general, as far as I understand it, this is a certain signal to the West, and for certain circles within Russia which were associated with the family of Yeltsin.”

Yury Boldyrev, once the head of the anti-corruption unit inside Yeltsin’s administration  and then deputy head of the Accounting Chamber, calls Putin’s Yumashev decree “a slap in the face for the outcome of the election…Maybe the people did not  express clearly enough their support for their national leader? If the people had expressed support by a vote of 96%, perhaps then no evil liberal forces would be able to twist our national leader’s arms, and force him to appoint Medvedev, and then Yumashev…[This] is a deliberate demonstration of the continuity of the Yeltsin family. In my considered opinion it seems to be a commitment to the mafia. So the appointment of Yeltsin’s daughter may follow either as Deputy Secretary of the Security Council, as Berezovsky once was,  or as Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank.”

Left image: in 1993 Boldyrev (right) founded the opposition Yabloko party with Grigory Yavlinsky  (left) and Vladimir Lukin. Right image:  Boldyrev in December 2017, campaigning for the National Patriotic Forces of Russia against Putin’s reelection.  

The Kremlin was asked to clarify Putin’s reason for continuing Yumashev’s appointment, and the role the President seeks from Yumashev in his official capacity.   Andrei Tsybulin, chief of the press office and deputy spokesman for Putin, requested a repeat of the question by email and then refused to answer.

Kremlin sources believe Yumashev will be tested by Putin in the negotiations with Washington over the future for Deripaska and Rusal. Neither Putin nor Yumashev wanted to have his official status confirmed in public. But his American  interlocutors do — in particular, the US Treasury and the White House.

At the same time Putin and the capitulation faction, as Boldyrev and the Russian opposition understand them, want to negotiate terms which will be broader than the terms for lifting the US sanctions on Rusal.  Watch carefully in the background of Putin’s meeting with President Donald Trump next month to see if Yumashev is present.


NOTE: Quasimodo was deafened by the ringing of Notre-Dame’s bells. Supporters of Yumashev have tried for a similar effect by launching a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack at this website. Two and a half hours after the story was published, our defence team recorded more than 100 attempts per second to open the website. This was a test of our capacity to withstand large volumes of pseudo-readers intent, not on understanding Yumashev’s role at the Kremlin,but on preventing this from being understood,  and on bringing the site down. The origin of the attackers was masked by three IP addresses in Serbia.  They have been defeated.

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