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Russian utilities executive escapes assassination attempt

MOSCOW—Masked gunmen tried to assassinate the chairman of Russia's state electric company Thursday morning, first detonating a bomb near his car on a Moscow highway and then spraying the armored BMW with automatic weapons fire.

Anatoly Chubais, 49, chairman of Unified Energy Systems and a leading opposition politician, escaped unharmed as his bullet-riddled car managed to speed away. Meanwhile, his bodyguards in a trailing car engaged in a firefight with the two attackers.

The gunmen fled into a nearby forest and were still at large Thursday night. The ITAR-Tass news agency said police have launched a special investigation, code-named Vulkan-5, to find the attackers.

Economic and political assassinations aren't unusual in Russia, and law-enforcement agencies rarely bring the culprits to justice.

Chubais certainly has any number of political and business enemies who might want to have him killed. He said Thursday he knew who was behind the attack but declined to name any names.

"I understand quite clearly who may have organized today's assassination attempt," he said in a statement, noting that he'd recently beefed up his security following death threats.

"The main thing I can say today is that everything I have done—regarding both the reform of the country's energy sector and the unification of democratic forces—I will continue to do with redoubled energy."

A decade ago, Chubais directed the controversial sell-off of the Soviet Union's most valuable assets after the collapse of the communist state. Coal mines, steel mills, auto plants, oil and gas fields, and vast tracts of timber went to a handful of wealthy and well-connected oligarchs at giveaway prices.

Chubais served as chief of staff to former President Boris Yeltsin and managed his 1996 re-election campaign.

In 1998, before Yeltsin gave way to President Vladimir Putin, Chubais was named the head of UES, which controls electrical power nationwide. His plans to restructure the state behemoth and make it more competitive have drawn scathing criticism from powerful political and business interests.

Chubais co-founded the Union of Right Forces, a liberal party known in Russia as SPS. The party fared badly in the last parliamentary elections.

The news agency Interfax said Putin called Chubais after Thursday's attack to check on his condition.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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