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Russia Oligarchs

Tag Archives | Russia Oligarchs

Mikhail Khodorkovsky warns Europe on Russia sanctions

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

Wikimedia

Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has warned against further sanctions on Moscow for its role in Ukraine’s current crisis. In an interview with the BBC, he said Europe risked playing into the hands of nationalists trying to isolate Russia. Instead, he urged EU leaders to help Ukraine become more stable, saying this could encourage change in Russia.

Mr. Khodorkovsky was Russia’s richest businessman until he fell out with the Kremlin and spent 10 years in prison. He has taken a keen interest in the crisis in Ukraine since being released and sent into exile abroad at the end of last year. Mr. Khodorkovsky told the BBC that Ukraine had entered a “slow burn civil war” but he said he did not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin was planning to invade eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Putin had “lost control” of events in Russia’s neighbor, Mr. Khodorkovsky said, citing the Kremlin’s recent inability to stop a referendum by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. But he said Europe’s reaction to events in Ukraine threatened to exacerbate renewed Russian nationalism, stirred up by the Russian president’s annexing of Crimea. Mr. Khodorkovsky argues that EU leaders should avoid further sanctions on Moscow and concentrate their efforts on encouraging political reform in Kiev. Russia could become even more authoritarian, he says, if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates and allows Mr. Putin to exploit a power vacuum in the country.

The BBC’s Bridget Kendall in Moscow says Mr. Khodorkovsky is not without his critics. He was seen by many Russians as one of the hated class of oligarchs, who made their fortunes in semi-legal circumstances in the chaotic years following the Soviet Union’s collapse. But his arrest and long years of incarceration turned him from Russia’s richest oil tycoon into the country’s most famous political opponent of President Putin, our correspondent says.

Vladimir in Love

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President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pete Souza/White House

Russian president Vladimir Putin does have a soft spot: Mother Russia. The West continues to have a knee-jerk reaction of vilifying and demonizing the man. This is a huge disservice to the American people and Western world. If we continue to judge him based on assumptions, how will we ever understand the man behind Russia?

President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pete Souza/White House

KGB. Those three letters seem to define Putin’s entire existent. Yes, he spent 16 years as a KGB officer, including working in Dresden when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. However, Putin’s personality—a cross between strategic and reactionary—originates from the sport of judo. As a child, he began in the sport; he practiced hard and earned the title of judo master. This sport requires strict discipline. Unlike the other martial arts, it’s seen as street fighting. One opponent makes a move, and the other must react quickly and strategically. There’s grappling, hair pulling, tugging; it’s not for the faint of heart. In other words, to excel in judo, one must be tough, resilient, strategic, and reactionary at the same time. Sound like someone we know?

Of course, all judo masters don’t act the way Putin does. That’s where the KGB comes in. The training is intense. Showers set to the exact temperature and learning how to imitate others’ facial expresses and gestures in order to break them down is just a taste of how KGB officers are trained. Training plus sixteen years in the field, combined with judo, turned Putin into a super disciplined human being. Like a robot.

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The Abramovich Victory: The Oligarch Machine in Action

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Daily Record
Daily Record

Daily Record

Neither oligarch came out spruced and cleansed, but there is little doubt that Boris Berezovksy emerged the poorer, both in terms of the time spent and effort to target Roman Abramovich. Abramovich, in contrast, won what is probably the biggest private court case in history, a bruising $6.5 billion battle that rumbled through the British legal establishment.

Berezovsky’s claim that the owner of Chelsea FC had bullied him into parting with shares in Sibneft, an oil and aluminium joint stock company he helped found, was dismissed by Mrs Justice Gloster as a contention born of delusion. The huge claim was laughed out of court. “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.”

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Putin vs. the Oligarchs: How a Failure to Protect their Assets could cost him his Job

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Vladimir Putin visiting the Uralvagonzavod plant.  Source: Kremlin Press Office

With the inauguration of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency on 07 May 2012, Russia’s leading entrepreneurs instead of restoration of political stability can see their investments and corporate assets exposed to growing political risks.

Vladimir Putin visiting the Uralvagonzavod plant. Source: Kremlin Press Office

In the fall of 2011, the country’s middle class together with diverse opposition forces and a bohemian circle of writers, singers and prominent journalists, challenged the corruption of the electoral process in Russia which led to the questionable victory of the pro-government United Russia Party following parliamentary elections. Most importantly, the opposition rallies in Moscow questioned Mr Putin’s ability to deal with Russia’s archaic and non-transparent political and economic system. He responded with promises of extra public spending and genuine competitive elections while painting a gloomy picture of political chaos if he was forced out.

Ironically, Russia’s highly divided opposition movement and a nascent middle class, so vocal during the recent public demonstrations in Moscow, are not the real threat to Vladimir Putin’s rule. His two biggest challenges in the next two years will come from growing divisions within the political and business establishment as well as potential new waves of mass discontent with unpopular economic reforms in Russia’s big industrial centres. As a result, even if Putin manages to reach his short term objective of restoring stability through political reforms and additional public spending, he may find it highly problematic to be able to retain power beyond 2014.

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Kremlin Human Rights Watchdog’s New Master

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Dmitry Medvedev chairing the Human Rights Council.  Source: Kremlin Press Office

In two days, Vladimir Putin will be inaugurated for this third term as the President of the Russian Federation.

Dmitry Medvedev chairing the Human Rights Council. Source: Kremlin Press Office

And with his reentry into the nation’s chief position, the issue of human rights and the development of civil society, a touted reform in the past four years under current President Medvedev, face an uncertain future. Earlier this week President Medvedev’s held his final meeting with the Kremlin’s Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. With their terms expiring on Monday, the departing council members did not hold back their disappointment of the Council’s accomplishments and criticism of the Kremlin’s unwillingness to make true reform.

The Council Chairman Mikhail Fedotov opened the meeting by raising his concerns to the exiting President that the council, though it has helped passed a number of laws, has still a long way to go on issues of police and anti-corruption reform. He described the current government apparatus as “sufficiently bulky, archaic, and clumsy.” After the meeting in an interview with the press, Fedotov warned that if under President Putin the members of the Council were to be replaced by “generals” and “those who attack human rights,” he would have no interest in being part of such a Council.

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A Party Without Putin

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President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2003. Paul Morse/White House

In addition to swapping government posts, the political tandem of Putin and Medvedev, which has dominated Russian politics for the past half decade, may be configuring yet another switch.

President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2003. Paul Morse/White House

According to the Russian newspaper, Vedomosti, President-elect Vladimir Putin and soon-to-be Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are set to separately meet with leading members of the ruling United Russia Party in late May. According to the article, arrangements are being made to have Medvedev replace Putin as the leader of the dominant United Russia Party, leaving Putin unaligned and unaffiliated. After a polarizing election, which brought unprecedented street protests of supporters and opponents of the Putin candidacy onto the streets of Moscow, this pivot by the future President to disengage from his partisan post indicates a grim reality for the decade-long established United Russia Party.

Despite various efforts to reform, Russia today is still plagued by rampant political and economic corruption, which in recent years have become the battle cry for the country’s small but growing middle class. And after over a decade of unchallenged dominance, the political establishment has begun to see its public support erode. The true state of the party became clear after the December Duma elections, when United Russia garnered the scorn of public dissatisfaction, suffering a 10% seat loss and losing its super majority. Furthermore, Putin’s announcement of his return to the Presidency ushered in a sense of Putin-fatigue, dashing hopes for a more liberalized political life in Russia. And while Putin remains relatively popular within the general public, the United Russia Party has begun to bear the brunt of the public’s growing disillusionment of established politics.

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Russia unlikely to see Reforms Post-Medvedev

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Dmitry Medvedev at the G8 Summit in Canada. Source: Kremlin Press Office

There is a Russian proverb, “Не пеняй на зеркало, коли рожа крива,” which loosely translates as, “Don’t blame the mirror for your ugly face.”

Dmitry Medvedev at the G8 Summit in Canada. Source: Kremlin Press Office

Ironically, Russia’s ruling elite are not blaming themselves for the shortcomings of the so-called, Putin-Medvedev tandem. Two recent developments in particular have prompted this dilemma within the elite class. First, in mid-March, President Medvedev’s Chief of Staff, Sergei Ivanov, voiced his mistrust in various country rankings prepared by international organizations, such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which placed Russia at 143rd along with Belarus, Nigeria and Azerbaijan among 183 countries. He spoke of the need to create Russia’s own corruption ranking.

Then came the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings “Top 100 Universities by Reputation” ranking for 2012, where not a single Russian university made it to the top 100. Two days after Mr. Ivanov’s statement, Russia’s Education Minister, Andrei Fursenko, promptly announced in response that Russia will create its own “international and universally recognized” university reputation ranking system, which would rival the Times’ rankings. Fursenko was in fact reiterating an almost forgotten statement made by Vladimir Putin in February 2011 regarding the “need to be very cautious about standings, and work out a self-made objective method of evaluating the quality of education.”

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Russia and the WTO: The Politics of Economics

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Russia officially becoming a member of the World Trade Organization

After a nearly two-decade accession process completed, the World Trade Organization has welcomed Russia as a member, pending formal ratification from the Duma that is expected to be completed next June.

Russia officially becoming a member of the World Trade Organization

The Kremlin has been struggling to achieve membership in the WTO since 1993. The process was slowed as interest has been mixed over the past decade under the Putin administration, which desired the growth achieved by China but was reluctant to cede any power to the private sector or foreign interests. The Kremlin’s push to join the organization came as a response to the ailing domestic economy suffering from a lack in foreign investment and falling commodities prices. Coupled with growing discontent with the current administration, Russian leaders seem to understand that a fundamental change is necessary and, with the state of the contemporary global economy, can only be achieved with assistance from without.

As Russia moves forward to join the international community with membership in the WTO, its government leaders continue to rely on the strategies of the past decades to insure the retention of their political power. The protests against the overt fraud and corruption in Russia’s recent parliamentary elections, coupled with the heavy-handed response from the Kremlin and the censorship of social-media, led domestic political-analysts to state that “in Putin’s view, these [protest] leaders need to be frightened, or bought off, or destroyed, or discredited, or threatened with legal measures.” Modernizing Russia has been a long and arduous task that has pitted the government and private sector against each other, undermining the nation’s progress and stability.

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Evolving Russian-Western Relations

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President Obama talks with Dmitry Medvedev in France. Pete Souza/White House

Russia has recently emerged as an important ally of the United States. Not only does the United States need Russian assistance in dealing with uncooperative states and in a supporting role in Afghanistan, but Europe is also finding Russian cooperation to be extremely useful. As the United States and NATO seek Russian assistance in several global regions, these states and institutions are recognizing that Moscow is no longer as dependent on their support as it once was.

President Obama talks with Dmitry Medvedev in France. Pete Souza/White House

However, these states and institutions are learning that relying on Russian assistance around the globe does have a price. For example, due to Russian objections, the United States canceled its land-based missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in favor of a sea-based system. Europe is paying more for natural gas from Russia, and in some cases access to natural gas is limited in the wake of payment disputes between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine.

Since 1945, Russia has been an important global player, due to its immense size, nuclear arsenal and permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. While Russia endured severe growing pains following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has since rebounded; and, in some situations, directly challenges the supremacy of the United States and NATO. Failed economic transition, along with the weight of IMF and World Bank loans, created the stage for a structural economic policy implemented in the 1990s by Boris Yeltsin, which involved the state selling off managing shares or whole industries, in order to add liquidity to the Russian economy. This policy had far-reaching ramifications. The oligarchs gobbled up nearly all state industries.

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