A Death In London

By Maria Bartiromo

The Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov always has the next move in his head. But he is as perplexed as anyone by what the next move will be in the cloak-and-dagger drama surrounding the killing in London of former KGB member Alexander Litvinenko. Kasparov is now chairman of the United Civil Front, an organization of disparate political groups that seeks to rebuild Russia's fledgling democracy. He suspects that Litvinenko got caught in a Kremlin power struggle over what will happen in 2008 when President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to step aside.

What is the mood like in Moscow?

There are many people who are very happy with the current situation, but many more who are unhappy. The farther outside Moscow you go, the more that unhappy number increases. [Some] 85% of the people are not receiving real benefits from the [energy wealth], but 15% are quite happy because they are related to the bureaucratic groups running things....The picture is not as rosy as presented in The Financial Times and The Economist. Just look at the statistics: While the center of Moscow is arguably the most expensive place in the world, some would say more expensive than New York, the average income per capita is $1,000.

What's behind this inequality?

The system is not based on the rule of law and a properly functioning economy...Obviously, the financial situation of many Russians during Putin's reign has improved...[but] the peak of the improvement was in 2004-05. Now people are no longer seeing benefits in the way they expected. If Putin goes in 2008, the whole system will be shaken. Many groups will fight to succeed him. If he stays, under pressure from groups that would like him to stay no matter what, then the system will change. He will lose his legitimate status, not only in Russia but in the world. Of course, for the Russian elite, Putin's rigid status is the main guarantee of their fortunes...this is not money made out of normal business practices.

Are people talking about the Litvinenko killing?

It is not just Litvinenko. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on Oct. 7. She was a journalist and one of Putin's harshest critics. She was saying that Putin and his gangsters should be brought to justice. Most likely [these two killings] are related to the power struggle for Putin's position.

This has caught the attention of the world.

Yes, because...the use of polonium [the radioactive substance that poisoned Litvinenko] is another alarm for the West that terrorists don't need a dirty bomb. They just need a few grams of such elements dissolved in a water system. I don't know what kind of message those who killed Litvinenko wanted to send, but...for whatever reason, they wanted to demonstrate that there are Russian prints on [this murder]...because polonium can only be produced in certain places.

Do you think Putin is behind these killings?

No. It is highly unlikely that Putin himself is behind the killings. But there are those who would like Putin to stay in power and burn all his bridges.... And there are those who would like him to...appoint a successor. Both groups want him to be compromised to have better positions for the final struggle.

Doing business there must be frightening.

Some people are making tons of money because they established good relations with Russian officials. But if you want to do conventional business, you shouldn't be in Russia. Political events can jeopardize any project, even if it is signed and ready. All major [business] activities in Russia depend on the approval of a certain group in government. [And a new law] bans criticism of the governing body. Can you imagine an election when you are not allowed to criticize your opponent? If you want change in Russia, you can't discuss it. And if you discuss it, you are considered an extremist. [Our organization] is trying to form a consensus from right to left that agrees on the principles of a functioning, free state: restoring elections, guaranteeing freedom of speech, and making sure the country is run by those who are properly elected. We are all afraid and have to be cautious. I am not feeling like a hero, but there is no other choice for us.

Maria Bartiromo is the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell.

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