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#5 - JRL 7246
July 14, 2003
The businessmen have accounted to the president
Author: Anastasiya Onegina, Vitaly Ivanov, Alexei Nikolsky
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]


On Friday, Arkady Volsky, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE), delivered an appeal to President Vladimir Putin from a number of business leaders who are concerned about the events surrounding YUKOS.

In the final version of the letter, of which we have a copy, the RUIE stated: "The conduct of certain politicians whom some security ministers are supporting against the background of the imminent election campaign, running under populist slogans which are inevitable in this period, tends to undermine the stability which has taken shape in the country, revise results of the privatization, and turn entrepreneurs enemies." The letter called on the president "to take measures to stop the reckless campaign unleashed by forces for whom stability is a threat."

In his speech, Volsky was more exact: "The president gave all [participants in the meeting] an opportunity to speak, and I raised issues related to the absolute improbability of deprivatization under the current circumstances, which may eventually lead to a revolution, and about investors' concerns related to YUKOS."

Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party, said the actions of the Prosecutor General's Office against YUKOS look like Stalin-era "taking away property from the kulaks." Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov warned that the authorities will fail to double the GDP if the privatization results are revised and class enmity is stirred up. However, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the principal owner of YUKOS, had supported both actions. Nobody asked a direct question concerning stopping legal proceedings against YUKOS, or the release of Lebedev.

In his turn, Putin didn't mention the word YUKOS even once. He assured Volsky and Yavlinsky that he "is opposed to twisting arms or jailing people" as methods of combating economic crime; while to Nemtsov he said that he believes privatization outcomes should not be revised, and only severe encroachments on the fundamentals of the constitutional order could be suppressed. Putin's closing words have no relation to the situation surrounding YUKOS, according to a source in the Presidential Administration.

Nevertheless, members of the RUIE heard in the president's statement precisely what they wanted to hear.

"At present, [following Putin's announcement and the delivery of our letter] we are hoping that at least Lebedev will be set free and this conflict [surrounding YUKOS] will be settled in a civilized manner," says a member of the RUIE executive board. "I think my words were understood. The president clarified that he is opposed to using jail cells to resolve cases [similar to the case of YUKOS] and therefore we agreed to have a private meeting next week," Volsky said after the meeting.

In the opinion of Igor Bunin, director of the Political Techniques Center, the tone of the RUIE's appeal to Putin shows the oligarchs are ready to compromise with the authorities. "They didn't tell the president anything like 'All business leaders are outraged about the conduct of the security structures, which are taking hostages from business circles.' Instead, it seemed like an appeal to a sovereign emperor: 'We beg you to pay attention to the conduct of some people who are impeding us from performing our loyal duties.' This form has a clear 'let's compromise' idea, and the oligarchs will have to compromise - both in words and with money."

As source in the RUIE's apparatus admits that "the letter had been initially meant as a pretext for dialogue with the authorities, rather than a plea for a confrontation."

Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the Effective Policy Foundation, says the president spoke out against those who are trying "to give his campaign a security focus."

According to an official of the Presidential Administration, the meeting was a mere pretext for publicizing Putin's position related to a campaign against YUKOS, Sibneft and their co-owners. "He was convinced to say words which could be interpreted as keeping a distance from security ministers," the official is saying.

(Translated by Andrei Ryabochkin)

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