In an unprecedented criticism by a Kremlin official, Andrei Illarionov accused the Russian state of “incompetent interference in the economy” and claimed it had joined the Third World.

He said Russia had now abandoned the path to economic liberalism and refused to rule out whether other companies would suffer the same fate as Yukos.

“A transition has been made to the interventionist trend. This model implies the state’s extremely incompetent interference in the economy,” Mr Illarionov said.

Warning that government meddling would slow Russia’s fast economic growth, he added Mr Putin’s aim of doubling Russia’s gross domestic product in ten years was not possible in a “populist and interventionist” political context.

His comments came as Yukos said it would pursue all legal means to recover US$20b in damages from anyone involved in the sale.

Yukos claims the sale of Yuganskneftegaz, its key unit responsible for 10 per cent of Russia’s total oil output, was a violation of US bankruptcy protection.

It was auctioned after the Kremlin imposed a crippling $27b tax bill and eventually landed back in state control, effectively renationalising a big slice of Russia’s oil industry.

“We used to see street hustlers do this kind of thing,” Mr Illarionov said. “Now officials are doing it.”

President Putin has battled to restore government control over energy assets that were privatised by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

Mr Putin claims the state handled Yukos in a legal fashion.

Mr Illarionov said the $10b used to buy Yugansk could only have come from state funds.

“The money was taken from the citizens of this country,” he said.

The attack on Yukos by Kremlin officials has already seen its former boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky held on charges of tax evasion.

Many analysts believe it’s part of a Kremlin power play aimed at neutralising a political opponent and reclaiming influence in the crucial oil sector.

Besides Yukos, the government is seeking back taxes from companies such as VimpelCom, the second-largest mobile phone company in the country, and Volgotanker, one of the biggest river shippers.

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