MOSCOW Russia's state arms exporter has filed a lawsuit against a businessman who said it was seeking to grab private assets, the latest salvo in what analysts have said is a turf war raging behind the scenes between Kremlin clans.
The dispute between fund manager Oleg Shvartsman and arms exporter Rosoboronexport offered a rare public glimpse into infighting between the opaque groups around President Vladimir Putin as he prepares to hand over to a favored successor.
The row began when Shvartsman said in a newspaper interview in November that he was planning to act as a corporate raider on behalf of Kremlin-linked interests that included Rosoboronexport and Igor Sechin, Putin's media-shy deputy chief of staff.
The arms exporter denied it had any links to Shvartsman or his businesses, or that it planned to work with him.
Observers interpreted his claim as part of an orchestrated attack on the "siloviki" -- a loose grouping of Putin associates with security backgrounds in which Sechin and Rosoboronexport's overall boss Sergei Chemezov are key figures.
Shvartsman's newspaper interview sent shockwaves through Russia's political and business elite because any claim that top officials have business interests is considered taboo.
In the latest move, Rosoboronexport on Friday filed a case in the Moscow Arbitration Court against Shvartsman and Kommersant, the business newspaper which published his interview, the court said on its web site www.msk.arbitr.ru.
The court said the arms exporter had filed the case because it was "seeking to protect its business reputation".
Neither Rosoboronexport nor Shvartsman could be reached immediately for comment. Kommersant editor Andrei Vasilyev told Reuters he knew nothing of the lawsuit because he was on holiday outside Russia. Shvartsman previously said the newspaper quoted him out of context.
The hugely popular Putin is to step down next year and he has endorsed his close ally Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him, virtually assuring Medvedev victory in a presidential election in March.
The biggest threat to a smooth handover is an outbreak of infighting inside the Kremlin as rival clans jostle for influence after Putin leaves office.
Some observers saw Putin's endorsement of Medvedev, a former law professor with no security background, as a blow to the "siloviki" and a victory for rival groups.
But analysts say the "siloviki" could still hit back by trying to derail a handover of power to Medvedev.
Commentators speculated that a Kremlin group was behind the initiative to publish the interview and that its aim had been to discredit the "siloviki" and weaken their influence.
(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Tim Pearce)