Saturday, March 7, 2009

Last Days of the Oligarchs?

That is the title of this article in the New York Times. There seems to be this conventional wisdom that the oligarchs are finished in Russia. The basic point:
Once-invincible oligarchs now look extremely vulnerable. With or without state aid, the government is likely to gain more control of their operations. If they get no help, many could go into bankruptcy, with nationalization of one form or another likely to follow. And any new bailout would probably mean larger equity stakes for the government.
And here is an interesting snippet:
In the initial collapse of the Russian stock market from May to October last year, Bloomberg News has calculated, the richest 25 people on the Forbes magazine list for Russia lost a collective $230 billion. Some of those unable to win state bailouts put up planes, yachts and mansions on the Côte d’Azur as collateral for loans, said Oleg V. Vyugin, the director of MDM Bank.
But the article does not really focus on the question of what would replace the oligarchs. And this is a key point. Putin does not believe that the state can effectively run industry. He wants private owners who are beholden to him. (Cliff Gaddy and I have been talking about this in many places, see for example, this article in The National Interest, Putin's Third Way). He is much more likely to protect them and thus tie them even closer to him than let them go. If he got rid of the oligarchs he would have to create a new group of them anyway.

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