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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Detained on Arrival: “Mad Max” Gets Madder

Russian national Maksim Kurochkin, aka “Mad Max,” landed in Boryspil Airport the “Shcherban way.”

Upon his arrival he was convoyed to the District Court of Holosiyiv, a Kyiv-based court that had issued a warrant for his arrest. Unless charges are pressed against him, his detention will expire within 72 hours.

The man whose interests in Ukraine have varied from business to politics and whom the press has long linked to organized crime is a suspect in an extortion case.

In the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, Mr. Kurochkin gave birth to the Russian Club, a hangout for pro-Yanukovych exhibitionists. The member list included such notable figures as Gleb Pavlovsky, then Putin’s key strategist, and Viktor Medvedchuk, Kuchma’s Chief of Staff.

Some Kurochkin fans must have been so frustrated with face control that they left a little present for him outside, namely an explosive device. Fortunately, no one got hurt.

It was then that Mr. Kurochkin managed to acquire Dnipro Hotel at a price way below its market value. Following Yushchenko’s inauguration, the deal was rescinded in court. Since then, Mr. Kurochkin has enjoyed a spot on Ukraine’s most-wanted list. Needless to say, extradition efforts have stumbled.

Months after the March parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Kurochkin admitted to having contributed to the PSPU campaign. Led by virago Nataliya Vitrenko, this pro-Russian ultra-left organization had put representatives in local legislatures throughout southeastern Ukraine, yet had failed to win a single seat in the Verkhovna Rada. Both Vitrenko and Kurochkin initially denied the relationship.

On the eve of his visit to Ukraine, “Mad Max” openly discounted the possibility of being bothered by Ukrainian law enforcement. With Yushchenko and Lutsenko lame ducks, why be afraid? Well, surprise!

What brought Kurochkin to Ukraine, anyway? According to the visitor, he planned to mediate a settlement in an ownership dispute over the Dnipropetrivsk-based Ozerka bazaar, allegedly co-owned by local billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky. The dispute drew considerable media attention when tussles between rival groups erupted on bazaar premises.

Some analysts hypothesize that Kurochkin’s unplanned overstay would conveniently supply reasons for Putin to once again “reschedule” his visit to Ukraine.

But why would the Kremlin entrust shuttle diplomacy to a man with a reputation for being involved in organized crime?

One answer would be because, according to some sources, its denizens have a comparable reputation. Talk of Putin’s ties to the St. Petersburg clan has been around for years.

The recent poisoning of FSB defector Aleksander Litvinenko, a London resident and distinguished Putinologist, next only to exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky, provides food for thought.

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