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Impediments to Russia’s Economic Growth

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment

At an international conference in Moscow, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who also happens to be the head of Russia’s anti-crisis program, mentioned two impediments to Russia’s economic development: lack of private property rights and an over dependence on oil and other raw materials to drive economic growth.

US Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle included these challenges in his speech at University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy last week. Ambassador Beyrle cited corruption and the lack of rule of law in Russia as impediments to both foreign investment and the development of a democratic society.

On corruption, Ambassador Beyrle said,

Russia is still a very tough place to do business. The combination of bureaucratic and administrative obstacles intertwined with pervasive corruption in Russia still constitutes a pretty significant risk premium for American investors and American businessmen who want to enter the Russian market or grow their businesses.

And on the rule of law in Russia, he said,

Corruption in the Russian government and especially in the judicial system…is still rampant in Russia. The road ahead for Russia is not completely clear.

What both Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov and Ambassador Beyrle recognize is reflected in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom out this week. Russia’s overall rating in this measurement of economic openness, regulatory efficiency, the rule of law and competitiveness, dropped 10.5 points to 50.3 this year. Ten different components make up the overall score and Russia’s three lowest scores are in the Investment Freedom, Property Rights and Freedom from Corruption categories.

‘The problems of systemic corruption, abuse of property rights and legal nihilism are well known and recently publicly discussed by top US and Russian officials. The question is what, if anything, are they going to do with these impediments to Russia’s economic growth? Besides talking about “reset” or “modernization,” do they have the political will to find solutions to these issues?

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Categories: Analysis, Economic impact

Truthiness Abounds in Russia’s Ratification of Protocol 14

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

After dragging its feet for four years, the Russian parliament ratified the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) Protocol 14 earlier today. Russia had been the only country out of 47 participating states to refuse to ratify Protocol 14, which improves the efficiency of the Court. The current process has created a backlog of complaints, a third of which are filed against Russia.

Dmitri F. Vyatkin, Russian Parliamentary member mentioned that the impasse was overcome because the ECHR had addressed Russia’s concerns by providing written commitments that Russian judges would be included in reviews of potential cases against Russia, the Court would not begin investigating complaints before cases were formally accepted and the Court would not have new powers to enforce rulings.

Taken together this sounds like Russia wants to transform the ECHR into a Russian court: by hearing complaints against Russia that the Russian government approves of, not delving too much in to the details of complaints filed and if the complaint is accepted for the Court to have no ability to enforce its ruling.

However, Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner of the Leaders of the Council of Europe, presents a different view of Russia’s approval of Protocol 14, that Russia’s concerns where heard but ultimately Russia will be held to the same rules that apply to other members and that no changes to the protocol were made.

Leaving for now, what Russia’s ratification of Protocol 14 actually means for the ECHR, a central question remains, “What propelled Russia to ratify the protocol after all these years?”

“Smoothing over differences” appears to be the official reason media outlets are reporting, however there may be other reasons political and financial reasons why Russia is offering this carrot to the West.  

Earlier this week, the $100 billion lawsuit YUKOS v. Russia was postponed for the third time because two Russian representatives were unavailable. Perhaps the Russian authorities feel that ratification of Protocal 14 could pave the way for this case to be dismissed.

Additionally, the Financial Times reported earlier this week that Russian companies would be seeking $90 billion over the next two years to finance debt restructuring and capital improvements and perhaps to rebuild the coffers for politically connected Russian business owners who saw their fortunes collapse during the 2008 financial crisis. As demonstrated with the Rusal IPO, concerns over the management of Russian companies remain and ratifying Protocol 14 may be a signal to the investment community that Russia wants to play nice.

Russia may see ratifying Protocol 14 satifying many goals: to reduce the effectiveness complaints against Russia in the ECHR while reassuring investors that Russia abides by the rule of law. But as the trial against former YUKOS chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a Russian policeman’s open letter to end authorized corruption demonstrate, Russia remains a feudal state, where

in absence of functional legal or law enforcement systems, people’s only real protection lies in a network of personal and professional relationships with powerful individuals.

YUKOS vs. Rusal

January 11, 2010 1 comment

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

On Thursday, January 14th the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is hearing the case of YUKOS Oil Company v. Russian Federation, the first time in six years of litigation that both sides will meet face-to-face in a legal battle on the Russian authorities expropriation of YUKOS and its assets beginning in 2003.  Foreign policy and Russian officials have acknowledged that the imprisonment of YUKOS’s CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was due to political reasons stemming from his support of opposition parties.

Meanwhile, the Rusal continues on its IPO path, even as more doubts about the process have surfaced. Its controlling shareholder Oleg Deripaska continues to be linked to organized crime, was refused a visa to enter the United States on those grounds and has received millions in government money funnelled through Russian state-run Vnesheconombank (VEB), controlled by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

YUKOS’s Mikhail Khodorkovsky is being charged in a second round of trumped up charges while Rusal’s  Oleg Deripaska is being rewarded for his cooperation and collaboration with the Russian government, stating publicly that he would transfer Rusal back to the government at any time saying, “If the state says we need to give it up, we’ll give it up.”

Putin’s TARP Plan

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

According to Jacob Plieth of the Wall Street Journal, if the Rusal IPO goes as planned later this month, it will be a “latter-day miracle.” As you recall, Goldman Sachs declined to be an underwriter for this deal and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange has dragged its feet, even though completing this complex IPO would mean millions in fees and additional revenue for the exchange and the investment bankers willing to bring troubled Russian companies to the international capital markets counter.

Rusal is a company that operates with $16 billion in debt and even with a partial sale of Norilsk Nickel and the pending partial IPO, there are doubts that a company hasn’t reported operational profitability can keep up with its interest payments.

Categories: Rusal, Russia Tags: , , ,

Igor Sechin – Russia’s New Decider?

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

In a recent Newsweek article, “Sechin Evolution into Reportedly Number Two Man in Russian Government Examined,” Vice Premier Igor Sechin is revealed to be the true power broker in the Russian White House, “the country’s main manager” and “expanding…spheres of influence.” Additionally, IHS Global Insight recently reported:

…that Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Sechin, has reminded investors that new amendments to the law on foreign investment in state–controlled strategic mineral fields are not designed to relinquish state control over the strategic assets but rather to offer an asset-swap to gain a foothold in Russia’s natural resources industry. Sechin’s comments are a stark reminder why the investors are wary of venturing into Russia in the first place. The Kremlin needs to do more to assure the foreign investors, already guarded by the infamous Yukos and BP nationalisation cases, that they will be offered fair compensation and will have a clear explanation of what constitutes strategically important resources. IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis, Russian Prime Minister Seeks Foreign Investors’ Advice to Improve Investment Law, by Lilit Gevorgyan, 23 December, 2009

Indeed, with Sechin as Russia’s Vice Premier for Industry and Energy, the risk of corporate raiding by government officials remains high and President Medvedev’s talk of ending legal nihilism, will be just that, talk.

Free Platon Lebedev

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

On the heels of the Moscow Times op-ed, “A Year of Increased Graft and Deadly Disasters,” the Russian Supreme Court found the 2003 arrest of Platon Lebedev illegal on procedural grounds.

Before his politically motivated arrest on July 2, 2003 as part of a case against former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Lebedev was director of Group MENATEP, a holding company with diversified assets of $20 billion. Group MENATEP was the majority shareholder of Yukos.

Lebedev’s arrest and prosecution were widely perceived to have been a warning to Khodorkovsky, as well as a means for the government to facilitate the re-nationalization of Russia’s oil and gas industry. Lebedev’s ordeal has been replete with violations of the most basic human rights.

After his arrest in his hospital bed in July 2003, the denial of independent medical attention during the trial, and his sentence at a work camp in Russia’s inhospitable Arctic, this ruling will hopefully bring an end to Lebedev’s six year legal farce.

Now President Medvedev needs to make good on his talk of ending legal nihilism, battling corruption and respecting the rule of law by setting Platon Lebedev free.

Why Is the Rusal IPO Worrying Goldman Sachs and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange?

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

According to the WSJ’s article, “Rusal Listing Delay Won’t Derail IPO,” the various hurdles to Rusal’s IPO are just bumps on the road to the first Russian listing in Hong Kong. Rusal is the world’s largest aluminum producer and is expected to raise about $2.5 billion in the IPO.

But an exchange not known for onerous listing requirements has requested more information from Rusal and Goldman Sachs was dropped as a book runner “after the investment bank expressed reservations about sponsoring the deal.”

The proceeds from the Rusal IPO would go to repay part of its $4.5 billion loan largely held by the Russian state-run VEB bank, also Rusal’s biggest single creditor. It seems like Goldman Sachs and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange are having second thoughts about facilitating a deal that would line the pockets of an oligopolistic petrostate.