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#11 - JRL 7205
BBC Monitoring
Russian oligarch says Putin only valid presidential candidate for now
Source: TVS, Moscow, in Russian 1940 gmt 29 May 03

Russian independent TVS channel's regular "Without Protocol" programme, presented in its usual format by Boris Berman and Ildar Zhandarev, featured an interview with chairman of the Interros holding, Vladimir Potanin.

In a brief introduction at the start of the interview, the presenters point out that Interros holding accounts for nearly 2.5 per cent of Russia's GDP and owns such industrial giants as Norilskiy Nikel, saying that an oligarch is a very rare profession. The programme listeners were invited to phone in their questions to Potanin.

Asked about his reaction to being called an oligarch, Potanin said the problem was not with what he thinks about the word, but with the image it conjures in people's minds. "It is regrettable, because our company, made up of many enterprises, employs lots of people and generates revenue paying large taxes, which is only good for the country. So, when they call me an oligarch in the negative sense it is currently perceived, it hurts of course. Whoever coined this term, did a great disservice to the whole business community. Because of this tag, our entrepreneurs get less respect than they deserve, both in Russia and abroad."

Potanin denied his political alliance with the Communists and ruled out the possibility of Communists ever coming back to power. "In business, people would do things to protect their pragmatic interests, and purely for tactical reasons would cooperate with any political force in the country. But there is a big difference between reaching a compromise on a specific tactical issue and supporting some political movement, like the Communists, in any systematic way."

"I think no fundamental turnabout is now possible in our country. I mean, no backing away from the market economy and respect of private property, or from integration into the world economy. I do not even consider any chance of that happening at all."

Asked by a listener whether he intends to support Krasnoyarsk governor Khloponin as a candidate for the next presidential election, Potanin said Putin was the only valid candidate for the time being. "President Putin, in my view, is the very person our country needs at the moment. He does a lot to make sure the country is moving in the right direction - integrating with the West, strengthening the market economy, respect for private property and legislation, and making sure this process becomes irreversible. From this point of view, I think Putin will complete his second term, with no problems at all.

"As for Khloponin, he is a very interesting and honest young politician of Putin's ilk. People of Krasnoyarsk should be lucky to have such a honest young man, wealthy in his own right, who, in building up his own career, will pull the region up and out of the dire situation it is in now."

Asked whether he is not afraid of repeating the fate of Berezovskiy and Gusinskiy, Potanin insisted that his company functions in an absolutely transparent, above-the-board way, with no hiding of assets or tax evasion tricks, and that his company interests are completely in line with the national interests. Thus, he has no fear of repeating their fate and considers his business interests sufficiently protected under the present system. He said Berezovskiy and Gusinskiy were trying to run the country by imposing their own rules of the game. "I am in a very different position compared to them, and enjoy a different level of protection."

The conversation moved on to perceptions of wealth and attitudes towards rich people in Russia. Potanin regretted the generally negative public sentiments about rich and successful people. He said that, unlike in the West, where one man's success is something that another man would usually try to emulate, envy and dislike of successful people in Russia seems to be part of the national psyche. In part, this can be a legacy of the Communist ideology. But the media is also responsible for shaping public perceptions with sensational reports about the ostentatious ways of the rich.

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