[FOUNTAIN]Oligarchs and politics“I was mistaken about him. I thought he would push reforms further. I regret that I helped him get elected.”
“He is leading the country on the road to despotism. He is not even a thief, he is just another small-time crook who happened to seize power. He is surrounded by small-time crooks.”
“The civil war has already begun, and business giants are taking sides. I am against him and the authorities.”
Sounds familiar? Which country? The complaints and criticism come from Russia. “He” is President Vladimir Putin, and the speaker is Boris Berezovsky, an oligarch and oil and media tycoon. He does not restrain himself whenever he has a chance to attack Mr. Putin, and even put a full-page protest ad in a newspaper when Mr. Putin visited Washington.
Ironically, Mr. Berezovsky played an indispensable role in Mr. Putin’s election victory. But his interest in politics, restless expansion of business, and intervention in government appointments have widened a division with Mr. Putin. Mr. Berezovsky is currently in England, which granted him political asylum.
Both Mr. Berezovsky and another oligarch, Vladimir Gusinsky, owned media groups and maintained solid ties with foreign officials and businesses. They also encouraged other oligarchs to help in Boris Yeltsin’s re-election and Putin’s victory. But when Mr. Putin was elected, they became targets for elimination. From their point of view, they were betrayed.
Mr. Yeltsin had no choice but to coexist with the oligarchs. But Mr. Putin exploited his approval rating of over 70 percent, the economic boom from high oil prices and public resentment of the oligarchs.
Mr. Putin’s campaign has brought a mixed response. Supporters said the crackdown was a necessary healing process to get rid of crony capitalism. But critics worried that persecuting the oligarchs would kill Russia’s fledgling capitalism and that politics would hurt economic development. Yukos, the second-largest Russian oil company and owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, sold 40 percent of its ownership to foreign firms.
Mr. Putin and his supporters said Russian voters would have the final say. Russia will hold a legislative election in December and a presidential election in March. The results will tell us on which side Russians stand.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.