“Voluntary-coercive” Ways Toward A “Velvet Re-privatization”

Oleg ShvartsmanOn November 30th, just as the Parliamentary campaign in Russia was coming to a close, Kommersant published a shocking interview with a little known businessman. As Putin’s televised image was imploring voters nationwide to support United Russia, Oleg Shvartsman’s words were exposing the Kremlin’s dirty tactics in another sector. It turns out that the state is taking a very active hard-line approach in re-nationalizing major industries, going as far involving well trained security forces in the “hard collection.”

Shvartsman, the head of the Finansgroup financial-industrial group, described the Putin dogma as “velvet re-privatization,” and spoke about a new “Social Investments” state corporation whose mission was to implement the state’s goals. He also implicated relatives of administration staff as some of the biggest benefactors of the new business.

The new state corporation was apparently created to “greenmail” private enterprise, that is, devalue shares and acquire a controlling stake at minimal cost. Shvartsman described the techniques as “voluntary-coercive methods,” and said the process was “like a vacuum cleaner, that gathers the assets for a structure which later becomes a state corporation.” The businessman added that many of the take-overs are for political reasons, and even pointed out a future target – a Chrome manufacturer in the Orenburg region.

Whether Shvartsman understood how far his accusations would go is a matter of debate. His candid answers to a reporter’s questions seemed entirely too matter-of-fact to constitute whistle-blowing. Even as he accused three Ministries of graft, involved current state industries like Rosoboronexport, and called out Igor Sechin, a Deputy Chief in Putin’s administration, and Duma representative Valentin Varennikov, Shvartsman seemed to think everything he was saying was perfectly lawful.

The reaction in Russia has been severe among those implicated (and hardly disbelieving among the rest). Shvartsman has been pushed out of his political party, and the people he named have screamed out in outrage. For his part, Shvartsman claims that the interview was taken out of context, and that the editors used creative liberties to rewrite it. Then again, he saw and signed each page of the manuscript.

Anatoly Chubais, a politician involved in Russian privatization in the 90s, and current head of RAO UES of Russia, explained the general sentiment well:

“Intentionally or not, Mr. Shvartsman told the truth. It is the truth about unavoidable diseases of such type of social and political systems as ‘sovereign democracy’. These are not local and occasional things but they are deep rooted both on the regional and federal levels. What is more, the fact that Mr. Shvartsman’s confessions were published in Kommersant shows that everything is not lost. It’s very important how both the society and authorities are going to react to them.”

Read the complete interview in Kommersant. (English)

Read the follow-up article in Kommersant. (English)