Q: Russia had a new leader two years ago, and we all are impatiently waiting for changes for the better. What is happening in Russia at the moment? Do you think there are good changes?
A: Of course, there are changes. The State Duma passed a lot of laws, which influenced both the economy and the situation in the country on the whole. Speaking about oligarchs and the relations between the power and oligarchs, I think that there will be changes too. The president said that there is a need in the reform of the state power and for the modernization of the executive power. The government realizes that there is a need in those changes. However, if officials work with administrative barriers, then there will be doubts in the result of the whole matter. Officials are definitely not interested in fighting with themselves. Society should have influence on those procedures, but I think that this will happen as fast as people wish for. The influence of “Yeltsin’s Family” was very strong in the 1990s, and it is impossible to eliminate that influence in couple of days.
Q: Why do you think it is impossible to destroy the influence of the “family?” The press wrote a lot about the crimes that were committed by the people so close to the “family.” For example, Internal Ministry General Orlov, the closest person to the “family,” is currently wanted, but no one is seeking him. Don’t you think this is rather a soft approach here?
A: It is important to consider the key issues, and this is not that simple. First of all, everything should happen within the framework of the legal space. I am talking about the key positions in different organizations and economic structures. We should have our people in the political system as well. On the one hand, it is very important to do this, but on the other hand, we should have such people first. People have to be selected, but this is a very careful work. Putin did not prepare for the presidency; he showed up all of a sudden, which is why he has to form his team on the move and work on the political and economic situation in the country. I perceive this situation objectively. At the same time, I think that he loses his speed sometimes in certain aspects of his activity. He sometimes loses the opportunity to realize his possibilities. He realizes this as well; he said so in his claims to the government. I think that this is the reason for his discontent.
Q: Why does his speed go down, maybe because he was a part of the “family?” Maybe, there is something that the president is afraid of?
A: I doubt it, because this would definitely become public, if not in Russia, then abroad. The entire Russian elite, including the Communist Party, was connected with the negative 1990s. Anyone can be blemished if there is a wish to do so.
Q: So, in other words, there is no net profit at the stage of the primary accumulation of capital?
A: We had that situation in the 1990s; the period was very tough, because it was a period of transformation from one system to another one. Both criminals and politicians were in that system, the presumption of innocence principle should work in any society; if a person is not convicted by the court, then he is innocent, no matter what label he might carry.
Q: A lot of oligarchs run for governors. Can this fact influence the situation?
A: I am positive about oligarchs running for governors, because they are the people that have a economic and business experience, and most, importantly, these people have a different mindset. One of Russia's problems is its conservative way of thinking. There are a lot of regional leaders in Russia that still think conservatively; they ask for budgetary help and for economic privileges. They’d rather cry instead of trying to do something. New people with new ideas will allow change in the regional mindset. On the other hand, it would not be correct to say that governors are independent. There is more economic independence, but when it comes to politics, they are not independent.
Q: Oligarchs made their money illegally; maybe this is the reason why the want to get into power, for immunity?
A: Governors are not immune now, they can be put into prison, and criminal proceedings can be instituted against them if need be. I do not think than Abramovich ran for the position of the Chukotka regional governor in order to obtain the immunity. I know that he made several very smart steps when he moved the legal addresses of his companies from Moscow to Chukotka, having increased the budget of the region at once. I am not taking Abramovich’s side at all, as I know about his business only from mass media, but, as far as I know, his business is the oil company Sibneft and aluminium, which are not found in Chukotka. The cash flows are controlled under the condition of the treasury system, although it was not controlled in the 1990s, during the period of the so-called northern delivery (when petroleum products and coal were delivered to Russia’s north), and there were a lot of opportunities for stealing there. Now, the situation is totally different, as there are no incentives to solve the question of the Chukotka governor’s wallet. There is nothing to privatize there.
Q: What is the secret of Chubais’s influence; he seems to be unsinkable under all regimes!
A: Anatoly Chubais, the head of RAO UES of Russia (United Energy System of Russia), is a very strong figure. He is a strong politician. This is the politician that wasc created during the period of the 1990s, which was the hardest period for everyone who was getting started. He managed to form certain positions in the West. Western countries support him, and this should be taken into account in politics. Secondly, Chubais created his economic power. He is strong not only as a person, but also as a politician with a group of supporters behind him, including oligarchs. However, I doubt some of Chubais’s actions, when those people who paid for electric power are disconnected from it. Chubais stands for the legal state and for economic justice, but, in this case, Chubais is breaking his principles.
Q: Does he have his own people in the State Duma that will pass laws that he wants?
A: Chubais does not conceal that the Union of Right Forces is the organization that he supports. He is actually the leader of this organization. Therefore, it is needless to mention that the Union of Right Forces will vote for the bills that Chubais offers. Business should always be loyal to power, because the most important thing for business is business. Business will always try to lobby itself via politicians. In this connection, Chubais is not an exception. America is not an exception either, because Enron lobbied Bush, hoping to solve its economic difficulties with the help of the presidential administration. The company failed, but corruption scandals happened both in the USA, in Russia, and in Germany.
Q: What should be done in order not to establish a close connection between deputies and oligarchs? We understand that any oligarch will take care of his wallet first.
A: First of all, the laws regarding officials, deputies, executive, and judicial power should be toughened. The laws must stipulate officials’ responsibility for the actions that bring harm to the state. Deputies’ immunity must be limited in this respect. A deputy is supposed to know that he or she will be called into account if he or she breaks the law.
Q: They have this practice in America: when a guy retires from FBI, he is usually offered another job in a state or commercial firm. Do you think this practice is possible in our country?
A: This should be done in Russia as well. I think that It will happen, because we have good professionals in our special services. Of course, those qualified people are in demand for various agencies and firms, which are not always 100% legal. That is why the state should control this process.
Q: Do you think that our prime minister can handle this?
A: The prime minister is surely not as he was before. He has grown as a politician, but I think that we have rather a weak government. Oil prices are going up, and the president changed from drunk and ill to sober and energetic. These things played a positive role for the economy. The government is dealing with the consequences of a favorable situation, which was formed in the beginning of the current century. I believe that a very good businessman or a manager could become the chairman of our government, a person who managed to become successful with his own company. The government is like a company that you have to control, administer, and manage. What is so good about an oligarch in the government? It will not be possible to bribe him. However, he has to declare that he will not support the company where he worked before.
Q: Do you think that the prime minister is closer to the Family than to the president?
A: I do not know; I can only judge from what I can see. The situation is really bad in the economy, as governmental reforms do not allow fast economic growth. The speed of economic growth does not depend of laws only; look at what is going on with the federal budget and so on. We have to work more to amend our documents and laws.
Q: What can you say about the smuggling of Russian oil?
A: It is totally clear that the oil that is being taken away from Russia illegally is sold abroad. There is an offshore company that buys oil at low prices, and, then, this company sells the product to its consumer at a higher price. The difference between those prices remains abroad on companies’ accounts.
Q: Do you agree with the vote of no-confidence to the government by leftist factions?
A: Communists add too much politics to any issue; they use any issue in their political goals. When we were working on the Land Code, the People’s Deputy faction suggested to exclude foreigners from the list of people that can purchase land. They didn’t support it, and our amendment failed, as it was not good to support us. I think that the president must settle those questions gradually and slowly, on the ground of the political and economic situation.
Q: So, are you again the vote no-confidence of the government?
A: Absolutely, I think that we should show pressure on the president in this case; he should conduct a reshuffling in the government and form a new position in a new economic policy.
Anatoly Aksakov (the deputy chairman of the State Duma committee for economic policy and business) was interviewed by Ilya Tarasov
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov