The Russian financial magazine Finans has published more proof that capitalism under Putin is doing just fine. Fine for the Russia elite that is. Over the last year, Finans reports in its yearly tally of Russian super rich, the number of Russian billionaires has shot from 61 to 101. Their combined wealth comes to $715.3 billion and the top ten have a total wealth of $221 billion. Here are the top five richest Russians:
1. Oleg Deripaska, $40 billion, sole owner of Basic Element and chairman of Russian Aluminum.
2. Roman Abramovich, $23 billion, owner of Millhouse Capital and governor of Chukotka.
3. Vladimir Lisin, $22.2 billion, chairman of Novolipetsk Steel.
4. Mikhail Fridman, $22.2 billion, one of the main holders in Alfa Group.
5. Aleksei Mordashov, $22.1 billion, chairman of Severstal.
Finance and metals are what feeds the coffers of Russia’s super rich. Those and a good dose of political connections.
An even more interesting statistic is that Russia only trails the United States in the number of billionaires. There are over 400 American billionaires according to Forbes. Their net worth is around $1.54 trillion as of 2007. What are the sources of wealth for the top five richest Americans? The list includes Bill Gates ($59 billion), Warren Buffet ($52 billion), Sheldon Adelson ($28 billion), Lawrence Ellison ($26 billion), and Sergei Brin ($18.5 billion). Technology, investment and hotels/casinos serve as their sweet meats.
You Might also like
By Sean — 7 years ago
Few are surprised to learn that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s and Planton Lebedev’s 14 year sentence was handed down from above. What was surprising was that Natalia Vasileva, the aide to Viktor Danilkin, the presiding judge in the second Yukos trial, actually went public and admitted the fix was in (original interview in Russia). Whistleblowing is rare in Russia. The risks are too high. Still, there has been a surge of whistleblowing of late. In 2009, there was Alexei Dymovsky, a former police officer who took to Youtube to denounce police corruption. There’s Alexei Navalny’s successful crusade against Transneft’s $4 billion fraud. Then there was that cardiologist who ratted out the Potemkin hospital Putin visited on the latter’s annual Q&A extravaganza. Most recently, there was Artyom Charukhin who came clean about falsifying police reports framing oppositionist Ilya Yashin for assaulting police. Lastly, inspired by Wikileaks, a Russian version, RUleaks.org, has begun. So far that site has been responsible for drawing attention to Putin’s $1 billion garish neo-Tsarist palace near the Black Sea.
Is this some kind of Wikileaks effect? Or have some brave souls just become too damn tired of it all and are stepping forward? Or, and I’m sure this theory is out there somewhere, Vasileva’s revelation, in particular, will pave the way for Medvedev to “pardon” Khodorkovsky by pointing to his favorite pet project: fighting corruption. Namely, this could be the first salvo from Medvedev’s camp for re-election 2012. You never know with Kremlin politics being akin to “bulldogs fighting under a rug” and all. For Vasileva’s part, when asked about her motivation, she said, “I don’t have any vested interests, I am disillusioned.”
Okay, I’ll go with her being sincerely disillusioned. But what has thus far made Vasileva’s whistleblowing fundamentally different from several of those cases above is that they either personally participated in said corruption or provided documents proving it. Vasileva doesn’t seem to have any of those besides her own observations, inter-office gossip and rumor, and personal interpretations all mixed in with a large dose of assertiveness. If she has any hard evidence like, I don’t know, some kind of paper trail, then she’s keeping that close to the chest.
Nevertheless, her interview with Gazeta.ru has produced shock waves. Everyone is talking about it. The gory details are that Judge Danilkin was repeatedly receiving instructions from the Moscow City Court on how to conduct the trial. Not only that, and this is the real scandal, Khodorkovsky’s and Lebedev’s sentence was handed to Danilkin from upon high.
Interviewer: Who wrote the sentence?
Vasilyeva: Danilkin started to write the sentence. I suspect that what was in the sentence did not suit a higher authority. And in connection with this, he received another sentence, which needed to be made public.
But since the (other) sentence was not finished by 15 December that is probably why the postponement period was extended so much.
Does this mean that the sentence that Danilkin wrote could have been read by someone before publication?
It was not read but simply, how can I explain this… When there is total control, there is no need to read it, you just need to ask what is in it.
. . .
You said that Danilkin had the sentence handed down to him from above. Who wrote it and who handed it to him?
I know absolutely for sure that the sentence was delivered from the Moscow City Court. And that this sentence was written by judges from the appellate court for criminal cases – that is, the Moscow City Court. That is obvious.
No-one apart from the Moscow City Court could have written it. And the corrections were due to this being a short stretch of time.
Who wrote the text at the Moscow City Court?
A source in Danilkin’s close entourage named the names of the judges to me, I know the names but I would prefer not to name them now.
To corroborate the assertions above, Vasileva’s claims that she repeatedly witnessed the magistrate fretting, upset and indignant over “the fact that he was being given instructions about what he had to do,” adding, “He did not like it at all, that is clear.” Moreover, Danilkin apparently understood that being the devil’s pawn put him on shakey ground as the whole ordeal began to take a physical and psychological toll on him. His day to day work was paralyzed by the whims of his handlers in the Moscow City Court. At one point he allegedly angrily interjected to Vasileva’s queries, “I cannot give you an answer to those questions because I do not know where I will be tomorrow, or what will happen to me.” Being a tool of higher-ups didn’t sit well with him. On his desk were a series of heart remedies: Corvalol, tincture, and valerian. Moreover, according to Vasileva, since the verdict Danilkin’s “psychological condition . . .has become very morose, he is constantly depressed, sad… Well, like when you understand that something bad is going to happen – that is the condition he is in. He is unsmiling, taciturn, he is sometimes very irritated.” Basically, Danilkin did what he was told and now he will probably have to take the fall for it.
There’s only one problem with all Vasileva’s assertions. She doesn’t really have any hard evidence. Sure we’d like to believe that Khodorkovsky’s trial was fixed. Even I, who thinks that MBK is nothing but a crook and deserves what he gets, understands that his trial is political and nothing short of show trial. My problem is that the trial isn’t political enough and there aren’t more oligarchs, including those sitting in the Kremlin, in the dock with him. Still, even though Vasileva tickles our hot spot, shouldn’t we nevertheless demand something more than her observations of an irritated and worried Danilkin or seeing him on the phone with the City Court? Shouldn’t her assertions that Danilkin didn’t write the verdict be based on more than “indirect” aspects of the text like: “secretaries amending the electronic form of the sentence” to remove “technical errors – the odd paragraph, commas, incorrect line spacing.” I don’t mean to piss on everyone’s collective jubilation over the Kremlin finally got busted for something we all assumed already, but shouldn’t such allegations be based on more than Vasileva getting information from colleagues of colleagues and her own self-assurance that:
I know absolutely for sure that the sentence was delivered from the Moscow City Court. And that this sentence was written by judges from the appellate court for criminal cases – that is, the Moscow City Court. That is obvious.
No one apart from the Moscow City Court could have written it.
How is she “absolutely sure” and how is it “obvious”? Um, like, some actual evidence would be nice? But then again, Vasileva might not have the burden of proof since she’s already telling us what we already think and/or want to hear. Right?Post Views: 999
By Sean — 9 years ago
Protests flared around the world last week in response to the global economic crisis. Last Thursday, a one day general strike of 2.5 million people brought France to a standstill. Wildcat strikes hit Britain as workers at two nuclear power plants protested the use of foreign workers. An action of a few hundred Black Bloc anarchists in Geneva turned violent when police blocked them from entering the city’s center. Protesters responded with bottles, the police returned with clubs and tear gas, arresting 60. A column of Greek farmers consisting of 300 tractors, trucks, and other vehicles protesting the drop in commodity prices were met by riot police. One farmer tried to ram a police van as protesters chucked potatoes, tomatoes, and rocks at the cops. Clashes between farmers and police continued into this week as more of the farmers pour into the port of Piraeus. Protests in Iceland brought an interim Left-Green coalition to power which promises to implement measures to quell protests. Latvia saw a protest of 10,000 people turn into a riot against their government’s dealing with the economic crisis. Many of neoliberal miracles of the last decade–Estonia, Lativa, Ireland, Ukraine, and Iceland have hit the economic wall. Experts say that Ireland is the worst hit in the Eurozone. There a job is lost “every five minutes.”
Indeed protest is in the air. More importantly economics stands at the center. As the Guardian described last Thursday:
It’s a snapshot of a single day – yesterday – in a Europe sinking into the bleakest of times. But while the outlook may be dark in the big wealthy democracies of western Europe, it is in the young, poor, vulnerable states of central and eastern Europe that the trauma of crash, slump and meltdown looks graver.
Exactly 20 years ago, in serial revolutionary rejoicing, they ditched communism to put their faith in a capitalism now in crisis and by which they feel betrayed. The result has been the biggest protests across the former communist bloc since the days of people power.
Europe’s time of troubles is gathering depth and scale. Governments are trembling. Revolt is in the air.
And not just in Europe. There is an estimated 20 million Chinese migrant workers who’ve suddenly become unemployed, adding to the estimated 10 million jobs lost in December when manufactures shut their doors. The high levels of migrant unemployment are feared to make an already tenuous situation in the countryside worse. About 50 to 60 percent of rural families’ incomes come from remittances sent from migrant factory workers. Chinese officials are already contemplating a “softer line” to protesters by urging Party officials to address people face to face. And then there is the shoe throwing copycat in London who failed to plant his rubber sole on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s grill. Some experts are seriously wondering if China is on the brink of an enormous social explosion, if not revolution.
Then there is Russia. Russia joined the chorus of global protest as thousands rallied in several cities last weekend. Actions targeted the economic crisis, the government, car taxes and the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastatia Baburnova. Important issues for sure. Still these protests appeared no more stage managed than past ones. Many of the usual protagonists were center stage–Other Russia, National Bolsheviks, anarchists and others from the Russian “Opposition.” OMON played its usual part as dastardly antagonist, though one should recognize that this time its iron fist wore a velvet glove. The dance between OMON and dissenters went according to the usual script. The only additions were the unknown assailants who attacked a group of marchers in Moscow. Each side appeared to get what it wanted. OMON (i.e. the state) showed its ability to keep order. Other Russia affirmed its self-importance and secured its foreign press coverage. As one commentator said about the Moscow action: There were “more journalists than participants.”
Perhaps most interesting was Russia’s real political opposition joined the protests’ ranks. The Communist Party attracted large crowds in the provinces. In the Far East, the communists wedded the unpopular car tax with challenges to the “government of oligarchs'” promises to “make life better by 2020”. Maybe this is the first sign that the KPRF might actually become an opposition in content rather than only in form.
Popular discontent is growing in Russia. No one argues against this. Recent polls indicate a increasing drop in Medvedev’s and Putin’s popularity. The former is hovering around a 51 percent approval rating, while the latter commands a 65 percent majority. A Levada Center survey found that people are increasingly questioning whether the government has a plan to deal with the crisis. “Twenty-eight percent of respondents said their biggest grievance was that leaders “can’t deal with the economic problems in the country,” and 17 percent faulted the Kremlin for not having a “well-considered plan of action,” reported the NY Times.
Growing public discontent also fuels speculations that there is widening rift within the Kremlin elite, particularly between the President and Prime Minister. Is the supposed rift a sign of healthy and needed disagreement at the top? The beginning of the son moving to bury the father? Or is this simply wishful thinking fueled by general social uncertainty? If there is any rift at the top, I don’t think veiled criticism uttered by Medvedev against Putin will be the telltale sign. If any fissures emerge, they will begin just below the tandem as Russia’s political boyars use the situation to rally around one or the other to better jostle against their rivals.
Despite the growth in Russians’ public frustration with the authorities, one shouldn’t jump the gun and put their hopes before reality. Granted the police are concerned, particularly about the potential rise of “extremist” youth on the left and the right. But to call last weekend’s protests “rare” or a sign of the Kremlin’s rule looking “shakier” are more rooted in fantasy. The problem is not that protests are rare. One might say there are too many that are too often ineffective.
The reality is that while last week’s protests should be situated within the larger trend of global discontent, they nevertheless show the longstanding poverty of Russia’s self-proclaimed political Other. National Bolsheviks, Red Vanguard Youth, and Other Russia political celebrities will find little public support with slogans and flares. Clashes with provocateurs and skirmishes with neo-Nazis may give the taste of a Wiemar flavor, but it occupies a fringe on Russia’s political palate. The truth of the matter is that Russia’s wannabe revolutionaries are either incapable or unwilling to do any real organizing that weds politics and people’s lives. Instead, ephemeral calls for democracy and rights stand in for real political action.
Perhaps this points to poverty of liberalism itself. And here Russia isn’t alone. Opposition movements have completely purged the hunger for state power from their gut. A general strike of 2 million French a century ago would have brought the state down. If not, it would have certainly lasted for more than one day. Revolutionaries of yore wouldn’t have bothered calling for the resignation of politicians. They would have demanded the destruction of the state itself. Russia’s revolutionaries too, except for the hapless liberals, would have spent more of their energies burrowing within the working masses than wasting them on spectacles.
But what makes the Russian opposition so pathetic is that it rejects its own history. Revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th century–whether they were populist, socialist, or anarchist–faced more difficult challenges than the oppositional diletantes of today. They had no websites or youtubes to organzie and propagate with. The Tsarist regime was far more repressive. Funding was more scarce and cadres were smaller and even more vehemently fractuous. Yet, they were far more organized, purposeful, and diligent. And more importantly they endeavored to connect with people’s everyday lives.
But Russia’s liberals of today, let alone many of Europe’s former “socialists,” makeshift anarchists, unionists, and environmentalists, decry this past because of its association with Communism. Well, like it or not, the communists won and they did so not by calling for resignations, democratic elections, human rights, or freedom of speech. Their position was encapsulated in two words that today’s opposition are too incompetent to imagine or too timid to utter: state power.Post Views: 600
By Sean — 6 years ago
The protests against Vladimir Putin. The prosecution of the protests’ activists. The series of laws directly or indirectly aimed at the street opposition: upping fines, the branding of NGOs funded from abroad as “foreign agents,” the re-criminalization of libel, the restricting the internet, and the proposed law on volunteers. Occupy Abai. Pussy Riot’s detention and trial. All of these have received much attention in the Western press, and rightfully so. However, I have to agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel’s recent call that “perhaps it’s time for some reporting on the millions of working or unemployed Russians who will bear the brunt of economic policies hatched by the Putin government and supported by many of its opposition critics.” As she astutely notes,
In a case replete with ironies, here’s the final one: even as Putin reaps political benefit from the resentments of this other Russia, his economic and social policies are poised to hit its citizens hardest—and his most prominent critics in the opposition are on board as well. Last month ushered in a fairly dramatic increase in utility and transit costs. And austerity, Russia-style, is coming to other sectors as well: neoliberal “reforms” are on the way in education, housing and pensions. These changes will mean socio-economic disaster for already-suffering Russians, many in regions far-flung from Moscow. What is little reported in the West is that Putin’s own critics, those who’ve led many of the street protests in Moscow, also back these measures. These include elite critics like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Boris Nemtsov and Ksenia Sobchak, once the Paris Hilton of Russia until she became its Pasionaria. Perhaps that should be no surprise: they’re not the ones about to get hurt.
There has been some question as to what vanden Heuvel means by “austerity.” And in regard to Russian macroeconomic policy, its overall Federal budgets, and general fiscal order, though there is some concern about the cost of Putin’s campaign promises, vanden Heuvel’s use of “austerity” might be a misnomer. But the devil is in the details, as they say. And the neoliberal reform she references without elaboration is the law “On Amendments to Individual Statutes of the Russian Federation in Connection with Improving the Legal Status of State (Municipal) Institutions” passed on May 8, 2010 and brought into force on July 1, 2012. This 200 plus page behemoth, which has local governments still scrambling to implement, effectively splits Russia’s public-sector institutions into two groups: “public institutions” and “new public-sector institutions.” The former includes national defense and security organs and larger medical institutions like psychiatry hospitals. The budget allocation of these organizations will remain the same. The latter, however, which includes the overwhelming majority of institutions, about 330,000, of health care, education, sciences and culture will be partially decoupled from the Federal budget and run according to market principles. The ideas behind the law are steeped in neoliberal assumptions that I thought only existed in the US and Britain. Namely, the law’s authors believe that Russia’s social institutions are bloated, inefficient, and moribund (okay, not much of an argument there) and therefore have no incentive to optimize and improve the quality of services to citizens. In the words of N. Mukhetninova, a critic of the law, the authors’ “intention is to transform the authorities’ existing public-sector network, which is inefficient and costly, into a highly efficient one (aimed at meeting the highest standards for the quality of the services provided) that is relatively cheap for the government.” The broader logic of 83-FZ is to realize Putin’s desire for a balance federal budget with a move so often utilized in the US: liberalizing public services like health care and education to performance as a means of “accountability” and cost saving.*
What does 83-FZ do? On the surface, 83-FZ has all the usual positive liberal claptrap. It speaks of institutional autonomy, budgetary transparency, and efficiency. But the “main intrigue” as Mukhetninova explains, is that the law puts these so-called “new public-sector institutions” at the whim of the market. Their budgets will no longer be calculated on previous spending, but will be subsidies based on fulfilling state assignments, which cannot be refused, but the subsidy for which can arbitrarily altered by municipal governments. The law doesn’t provide any standards for determining the norms or financial payment for fulfilled work. Moreover, by making these institutions “autonomous,” the state is relieved of any responsibility for their economic viability. This creates, in Mukhetninova’s words, “a fundamentally new stage of commercialization of the social sphere and the government’s dumping of its responsibility for the functioning of the social sphere on the citizens themselves.” Is this not austerity by otherwise neoliberal means?
Indeed, as many health care professionals, labor unions, educators, and cultural workers believe, 83-FZ will eventually lead to the privatization of Russia’s social services. Mekhetninova implies this with her claim that transforming the funding of public-sector institutions to subsidies for work rendered will ultimately result in “bankruptcy thereby causing a redistribution of ownership in the social sphere.” Basically, the fear is that the already existing virtual privatization of public-sector institutions by their senior management will allow the latter to become formal owners. This is an effective means to legalize public-sector bureaucrats’ longstanding practice of pilfering state institutions all the while transferring more of the costs for services to Russia’s citizens. The law already allows for a measure of this since its gives administrators the power to engage in income generating activity, i.e. to charge service fees, dispose of movable property (though there are limitations for valuable assets), and declare unused budget monies as income to be used in the following calendar year. All sounds good–public-sector institutions are being given the means to better allocate resources. However, all I can see is another means for bureaucrats to move public funds and property into their own pockets.
Granted, many of the fears espoused last fall about the abolition of free education did not come to fruition. However, the law only went into effect on July 1. So for the ultimate results of 83-FZ, positive or negative, remains to be see. Given the disaster of welfare liberalization in other contexts, I, for one, am not optimistic.
So where is the Russian opposition on all this? There are many groups that have been and are continuing to protest 83-FZ, but many of them are labor unions and small leftists organizations that often fly under journalists’ radar. There was a lot of opposition to its passage in 2010, but to no avail. But wariness of the law was visible even among the Party of Power. Barely half of the Federal Council voted for it. In contrast, the “stars” of the Russian opposition have been mostly mute. Thus, while vanden Heuvel’s assertion of austerity, Russian style can be debated (I happen to agree with her), there’s one thing’s she unfortunately spot on about: When it comes to social and economic matters there is more congruence than divergence between Putin and his opponents. After all, why should Ksenia Sobchak et al care? The answer to that question, I’m afraid, is that they don’t.
*It’s important to note that 83-FZ is connected to several other policies. Mekhetninova: “In connection with the latter circumstance, we cannot fail to point out the organic relationship between FZ 83 and another recent legal document produced by federal executive authorities: the Ministry of Finance Program for Increasing the Efficiency of Spending Budget Funds in the Period up to 2012, approved by the RF government on May 20, 2010. Section 8 of the program is aimed at “optimizing” the public-sector network, developing it with funds from extra-budgetary sources, and expanding competitive relations, further implementing market principles in the social sphere, in all of its components.” For a survey of welfare reform liberalization under Putin, see Linda Cook, Postcommunist Welfare States: Reform Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe, Cornell University Press, 2007, Chapter 4.Post Views: 1,730