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#5 - JRL 7263
July 24, 2003
Putting Pressure on Russia's Richest

The possible review of the results of privatization has been the biggest news story over the last two weeks. Media companies quickly adopted a position in line with the political and economic interests of their owners. TV channel TVTs (i.e. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov) for example has been actively criticizing the oligarchs and demanding an investigation into the privatization process using the well-known propaganda method of an interactive survey for television viewers to support the views of TVTs presenters.

A live survey of TVTs viewers last week gave a clear picture of their attitude towards privatization. Of ten thousand callers, more than nine thousand said that people will have a better standard of living if there is a reexamination of the privatization process. Such unanimity is of course impressive. Naturally, there are certain nuances.

If the question had been formulated a little differently, the result would have been quite the opposite and yet equally convincing. Moreover, experience shows that it is never really possible to take part in these television surveys: no matter how many times you dial the different numbers they always seem to be engaged. This naturally makes one a little suspicious.

REN TV (i.e. UES of Russia boss Anatoly Chubais) shows similar zeal in putting across its views. Here the views are a little different however: 'We won't let the cream of our nation be insulted, take your hands off the oligarchs - they are ours.' Alfred Koch, conscience of the Russian nation, speaks on live television saying that the slogan ''beat the oligarchs' is only being used so that the 'Kremlin faction' win the parliamentary elections. What is more he speaks with visible scorn about those who 'out of stupidity' failed to take part in the privatization process and as a result were left with nothing. Coming from Mr Koch this sounds particularly colourful.

Then some anxious voices mention that stock market prices have fallen, that foreign investors are nervous and that the Russian oligarchs have been crushed. The conclusion: the Russian experts at accumulating money are not being allowed to work for the benefit of their own country! Help!

Why, though, have investigations into the privatization process hit the news headlines? Perhaps it is just something to distract us, to prevent us from noticing what is really happening?

Recently Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov told Rosbalt about an interesting fact that has been talked about for some time: the introduction of a state monopoly on vodka. There has also been more and more talk of the need to tax surplus profits in the extractive industries of the economy.

If these two ideas come to fruition, the budget will no longer need propping up. Pensions will rise and the minimum wage will disappear. Of course one wonders why this has not been done already? It's all very clear.

Here's why! Because there are people who have basically monopolized and privatized the life sources of Russia (undoubtedly thanks to their outstanding intelligence -what else?). There are those who are making a fortune in the vodka business. For some reason its taboo to talk about the profitability of these industries. One can only dream about the corresponding sums of money.

The oligarchs have already got used to their surplus profit and they are not about to willingly hand it over to any government. A lot of pressure will be needed in order for someone to agree to make only USD 2 billion annual profit instead of his usual USD 3 billion. This is what is happening now.

Incidentally, Roman Abramovich's scandalous purchase of Chelsea football club is beginning to take on a different light. Perhaps he reached an agreement with someone before he bought the club? In order, so to speak, to cause public indignation: After all, he is not a fool.

Tatiana Chesnokova, Rosbalt Translated by Nick Chesters

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