Categories: Political spin / Trust and reputations

27 October 2008

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Twilight of the Oligarchs? Not likely

Yesterday’s Sunday Times investigated so-called Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and found him to be shady. Today’s Guardian asks are we about to see the demise of Russian oligarchs.

First, let’s examine Peter Mandelson. The EU has to deal with major traders such as Deripaska. But mostly in its offices, not in private on their yachts. Mandelson absolutely needed to stay clear of him out of hours. Or at least he should have lodged with his office very detailed accounts of any behind the scenes dealings. It is silly of him to say that he will now operate according to the ministerial code as though he didn’t have to when he was a mere European commissioner.

The Guardian does not understand oligarchs. In Russia it is all about the control of resources. That’s mostly in the hand of the state. Then it is about building vehicles to trade in the real world, which requires front people and front organisations. Individuals don’t matter much, not even individual oligarchs (remember Mikhail Khodorkovsky?). There are networks behind each of them that fight for the state’s patronage. And the groups shift loyalties all the time behind the scenes. Putin is the wealthiest of them all. But his wealth is measured more in power than dollars. That includes control over the law, people, raw materials, infrastructure, transport (the state). To end the oligarch scene one would have to see Russia crumble as is. That is not going to happen. So grown-ups in the West will continue to meet oligarchs for good reasons.

Meanwhile, the best profile for most oligarchs is no- to low-profile. Oleg Deripaska’s PR advisers, please take note.

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