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Russian leader replaces rabbi on Kremlin council

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin replaced the rabbi who previously represented Russian Jews on a Kremlin advisory council with a rival from an ultra-Orthodox movement, a Kremlin spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The spokeswoman declined to comment on why Putin booted Adolf Shayevich, who represents mainstream religious Jews, from the presidential council on religious organizations in favor of Berl Lazar of the New York-based Chabad Lubavitch movement.

Both Shayevich and Lazar claim the title of chief rabbi of Russia, but critics say Lazar represents only a small minority of the country's observant Jews. Lazar, a former New York resident, is backed by the Federation of Jewish Communities, which was founded last year, reportedly at the Kremlin's bidding.

Shayevich said his exclusion was connected to the Kremlin's conflict with media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, who heads the Russian Jewish Congress. That organization is partnered with the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations, which Shayevich heads.

Russian prosecutors accuse Gusinsky of fraud, and the tycoon is currently in jail in Spain fighting extradition. Gusinsky says the case against him is political.

"Because it set up a new Jewish structure for itself, the Kremlin needed a new chief rabbi. Initially this was done to confront the Russian Jewish Congress headed by Vladimir Gusinsky, but then those who had started all this decided to go all the way and push me aside," the Interfax news agency quoted Shayevich as saying.

Last fall, police raided Moscow's Choral Synagogue, which is Shayevich's main base, and tried to seize financial documents without a warrant, Shayevich said.