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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

John Beyrle, US Ambassador to Russia, on the Rule of Law

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Ambassador Beyrle said,

Corruption in the Russian government and especially in the judicial system…is still rampant in Russia.

Categories: Economic impact, Russia

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.

Der Welt – Khodorkovsky’s lasting shadow

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Via the EU-Russia Centre, Der Welt published an article on why Mikhail Khodorkovsky remains significant to Russia’s economic development. According to the article “at least one third of the population expressed according to the survey Institute Levada-Center at the beginning of the conviction that people like Khodorkovsky could help with their know-how of the country in crisis.”

The full article translated below via Google Translate:

Khodorkovsky’s long shadow
Yukos was once an example to be established early on ethics and years later Vladimir Putin again lives in fear of the dead and a group jailed billionaire
Eduard Stein
December 2009, 04:00 Clock 14h

For some reason, Vladimir Putin, sensing a need for clarification. After six years of evasive answers and arcane information about the rise and fall of the government-imposed oil company Yukos was Russia’s most powerful man on television two weeks ago suddenly on the offensive. For years, curious person urged the former President and current Prime Minister, a plausible explanation. Vain. Finally, it was a dish that had sent the once-largest oil company in the country several years ago in the bankruptcy, said Putin and his top officials free of the responsibility: Finally, the court on a repeated sentence or the release would be the Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest decide.

But it was still Putin himself, who forestalled suddenly in the course of his TV Question Time the court and in unexpected detail, commented on the case. What should spontaneously appear, therefore, ultimately came more through-composed. Do not go there about when to release for whom, “said the Prime Minister go there so that repetition of such economic crimes. They also maintained that the money from the auction of Yukos assets RULE in social housing has been set, “Putin said to the astonished spectators”. Then, to dare the legal tightrope: the ex-security chief of Yukos, Alexei Pitschugin, who has been convicted of three contract killings in 2007 to life imprisonment without the guilt, “has clearly acted in the interest of and on behalf of the owner.

Since Putin knows his opponent over the court, “said Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who himself was never accused of murder, from prison. You may still call upon the Premier to give evidence.

In seven days on the beginning of the Causa Yukos, the topic is thus again a household word. For years, the Russian authorities had hoped that the interest in his most prominent prisoner, who was once estimated at 15 billion U.S. dollars assets, more and more abated. And in the end perhaps totally dies. Too much the case had tarnished the image of the rulers and the country already. No other matter beyond the Chechen war had made the perceptive world opinion against Russia’s development under Putin. No subject had clearly signaled observers abroad that began with Putin after a decade of attempts in a market economy and democracy in a new era of statism and the authoritarian power vertical in Russia.

None other than 25 October 2003 was so obvious. Early in the morning landed on that day a Russian Tupoljew with Khodorkovsky aboard in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. A few minutes later, the domestic intelligence service FSB special forces stormed the plane. “When I saw the siege was everything to me clearly,” to the then forty-year multi-billionaire said.

Already months before a string of incidents had indicated that was the most modern and most efficient oil company in the country with his boss and major shareholder in the crosshairs of investigators. What followed after the arrest, was an unprecedented geheimdienstgeschulten tug of war between the Kremlin and the relentless head of a mega company with 105,00 employees. At the end Khodorkovsky was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005 with eight years imprisonment in the remotest Siberia. Subsequently, Yukos was filleted and mostly incorporated into the state oil company Rosneft, which rose to the market leader.

Since the spring of this year, Khodorkovsky is in Moscow again in court. Shake about the new indictment not only Putin’s critics around: the tycoon is the whole Yukos flow have been stolen. Previously he had been convicted solely because of tax evasion for the Yukos oil. Now the prosecutor has accused him of having illegally sold oil worth 20 billion euros. In extreme cases, this latest charge threaten to bring more than 20 years in prison.

One should remember the Mafia boss Al Capone, the “30 year old was formally sentenced in the U.S. for tax fraud – but in reality for all crimes he committed,” Putin initiated at the end of November in France. His answers to answer the questions about Khodorkovsky was drastic. He likened his rival on this occasion with the U.S. billion fraudster Bernard Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Nobody has felt the injustice and “even a beep given by itself,” complained Vladimir Putin. Why just the other Causa Khodorkovsky with a measure would be measured?

Because it was politically motivated to be Khodorkovsky’s lawyers never tires of stressing. That’s what Putin himself admitted behind closed doors, said a few months ago, none other than Mikhail Kasyanov, the beginning of the affair, Prime Minister under Putin. The former president had echauffiert about the fact that Khodorkovsky without permission of the Kremlin’s next Liberal parties also began to sponsor the Communists,’ said Kasyanov. Immediately after his assumption of office, Putin had called all the oligarchs to abide by political non-interference. All other tycoons, who like Khodorkovsky, seized during the privatizations of the 90s to questionable nature and at bargain prices, huge fortunes under the nail, and great power within the state itself, had understood Putin’s message – and Khodorkovsky was warned. The wealth had gone to his head and caused a feeling of integrity, he would tell later companions. “Was Chodor,” as his intimates call him, just a strong person with principles to keep his followers against it.

Khodorkovsky has indeed has strong international support. Unlike court proceedings, the lobbying machine of the volatile Yukos billionaire runs very fast. Together with lawyers, they instigated in an information war with the Kremlin, which they have won very early on. In early December, they also achieved a real part of success: An international arbitration tribunal in The Hague ordered former Yukos shareholders to legal action against the Russian government because it had allowed, despite binding to the International Energy Charter, the expropriation of the Group. As the claim will be circulated to the shareholders of 100 billion U.S. dollars.

“In the end, the European Court, but not 10,000 dollars compensation claim,” warns Alexei Makarkin of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies to realism in a new information war. But also includes Makarkin – such as Khodorkovsky’s supporters – not that Putin’s attacks against the detainee associated with the decision of the Court of Holland and the prime minister had once built a defensive line.

For just as likely, but observers think that is on the rise in the Russian government panic because the politicians are afraid because of the absurdity of the charge in the current second trial in Moscow for an acquittal.

Domestically, such a defeat would have to get over, however. The nation does not feel any great sympathy for Khodorkovsky. But at least one third of the population expressed according to the survey by the Institute Levada-Center at the beginning of the conviction, that people think Khodorkovsky could help with their know-how of the country in crisis. “If Khodorkovsky was set free, he would become perhaps less economically, but socially active,” says Sergei Guriev, rector of New Economic School in Moscow: “As a moral authority he could collect a lot of people around.”

An acquittal would have still another effect: When would this year have a pregnant Yukos lawyer suffering from AIDS and the former deputy leader of the group have been released from prison, the verdict further evidence of potential investors that the new president, Dmitry Medvedev, with the modernization seriously. “It would be a sign that the country does not drift to a halt,” says Guriev.

But that when it comes to power, the investment climate for the governance of secondary, Makarkin said: “Being a strong character Khodorkovsky is ready to fight. Putin has made clear with his recent statements that he did not want to see him in freedom.”

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.

Rise of Oligopolistic Capitalism Flies in the Face of 1990s Foreign Policy Hopes

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Ian Bremmer and Alexander Kliment published an interesting article in the World Politics Review today called, “State Capitalism and the Future of Globalization.” In it they argue that the assumption that globalization and capitalism will lead to free markets and free ideas must be reconsidered.

Far from blossoming into the pro-Western, market-oriented democracy that the 1990s shock therapists dreamed of, the successor to the Soviet Union has developed into a quasi-authoritarian petro-state, strongly committed to a form of tightly managed oligopolistic capitalism, in which elements of free market ideology coexist with strict government control over sectors that the Kremlin considers vital to Russia’s economy and security.

In Russia today, Bremmer and Kliment point out that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has crafted a public policy that puts the interests of the state and its officials above the interests of investors, domestic or foreign. These state capitalists have codified their behavior by passing the “strategic sectors law” of 2008, where foreign investors must receive special governmental approval to obtain large stakes in Russian companies in the 42 sectors deemed of national strategic importance.

As an example of this state control, Bremmer and Kliment point to the energy sector where the state now controls 50% of Russia’s oil output, up from 10% when Putin initially come to power. Part of this was accomplished by

jailing in 2003 of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the state takeover of his Yukos oil company. [And] several years later, the state pressured the Shell-led consortium at the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project to cede a controlling interest to Gazprom for below-market value.

Interestingly, the 13 largest energy companies on Earth are owned and operated by governments and these state-owned companies now control nearly 80% of global crude oil reserves. As Russia and China take the lead to dominate sectors domestically, they are also funneling the wealth from these state organizations into sovereign wealth funds, maximizing not only their investment returns but also international political influence.

NEWS: Mounting Russian Investment Risks Highlighted by Death and False Imprisonment of Leading Businessmen

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Transparency International released its 2009 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and again Russia’s low ranking, 146th out of 180 countries, demonstrates it needs to do more to reign in corruption and strengthen its legal system.

This annual survey shows that concern among business people and analysts over state corruption and legal abuse deters direct foreign investment and harms Russia’s economic health. President Medvedev himself has repeatedly stated his commitment to ending “legal nihilism” and spurring a new era of foreign investment.

Yet, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s most successful businessman, remains in jail on a second round of fabricated charges, further eroding business confidence. Mr. Khodorkovsky recently passed the six-year mark of his imprisonment and faces another 22 years in Siberia if convicted in this second trial. This is taking place as capital outflows totaled over $169 billion, approximately 10% of Russia’s 2008 GDP, between October 2008 and March 2009 according to U.S. State Department statistics. Multinational companies, such as IKEA and Carrefour, have announced plans to withdraw or reduce investment in Russia due to extortion and lack of judicial independence.

Pressure on business is building following the recent death while in custody of leading Russian corporate counsel Sergei Magnitsky, 37, a key witness in another absurd legal battle over alleged tax fraud between the Kremlin and Hermitage Capital, once Russia’s top investment fund. The International Bar Association and the U.K. Law Society decried Magnitsky’s death as did Firestone Duncan Managing Partner Jamison Firestone who said the government ignored calls by business and legal leaders to release his former colleague.

“There is no law in Russia at the highest level,” Firestone said. “The higher you go the less there is law. Any lawyer who tells you he can protect you in Russia is a liar.”

Risks to the financial system mount as Russian President Vladimir Putin backs energy deals with German and Italian corporations and moves for the state to take a stake in the controversial initial public offering of the embattled aluminum giant UC Rusal. As Finance Minister Aleksei L. Kudrin seeks government bond financing from London bankers, the Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov warns Russia risks collapsing into chaos if officials try to fix the political system by adopting liberal reforms.