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The Moscow Times, October 9, 2003

Democracy, In Putin's Own Words


President Vladimir Putin, in interviews given to foreign journalists just before and after his recent trip to the United States, offered his most detailed comments to date on the ongoing Yukos saga and, more broadly, on the relationship between the state and business. Taken together, the comments provide a valuable insight into the president's mind-set and the so-called Putin "power vertical." A couple of passages should suffice:

First, Putin talks of the oligarchs as state-appointed billionaires who "got the impression that the gods themselves slept on their heads, that everything is permitted to them."

Second, and most strikingly, Putin speaks of Yukos' reported funding of the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko as follows: "One of the key persons in the Union of Right Forces is Mr. Chubais. And had there been any wish to wipe him off the political stage, Mr. Chubais would no longer be there, would not be the CEO of RAO UES. Who is supporting him?

"Very often I don't agree with what they [Yabloko and SPS] say or do, but I am convinced that these forces should be represented on the political stage. And if Yukos finances them ... fine, go ahead."

In his enthusiasm to project the image of an enlightened ruler, Putin (no doubt inadvertently) ends up portraying himself a modern-day tsar, in whose gift it is to decide: who should be represented on the political stage and who not; which political parties should be funded and which not; and -- would it be stretching things too far to say -- which state-appointed billionaires should feel the heat of the prosecutor's office and which not.

In the case of Anatoly Chubais, as state-appointed head of UES, it is, of course, well within the president's competence to initiate his dismissal. Less clear, are the legal means whereby Putin could "wipe him off the political stage."

And as regards state-appointed oligarchs, the legal mechanisms for removing those who provoke the tsar's wrath are far from obvious and clear-cut. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as far as we are aware, cannot be dismissed as CEO of Yukos by presidential decree, even if he does do things that Putin disapproves of (whether it be buying seats in the State Duma or failing to grovel to the president before merging with Sibneft and trying to sell a strategic stake in the merged entity to a foreign oil major).

Has Putin not provided us with his own rather candid vision of the "managed democracy" that claims does not exist in Russia? And could the actions of the prosecutor's office not be the fulfillment of the will of a frustrated tsar who feels that certain state-appointed billionaires have got a little too big for their boots?


See also:

the original at

Privatisation in Russia


The Moscow Times, October 9, 2003

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