Just before New Year’s, Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National Strategy Institute, gave an interview in which he repeated for a third time his claim that Vladimir Putin is a multi-billionaire and said that Dmitry Medvedev was chosen to succeed Putin in order to complete the task of “legalizing” the funds that Russia’s elite has stashed in the West. He also cast doubt on Medvedev’s relatively liberal image.
Belkovsky first made the claim about Putin’s putative riches in an interview with Die Welt published on November 13. He told the German newspaper that Putin controls 37% of the shares of Surgutneftegaz, Russia’s fourth-largest oil producer, with the market value of Putin’s putative stake in the oil company coming to $20 billion; controls 4.5% of the shares of Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly; and holds a 50% stake in Gunvor, a Swiss-based oil trading company run by his long-time associate Gennady Timchenko, which, according to Belkovsky, had $40 billion in turnover and $8 billion in profits in 2006 (see EDM, November 19, 2007). Belkovsky repeated these claims in an interview published last month by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, but said this time that Putin controls “at least 75 percent” of Gunvor and is worth “at least $40 billion,” and added that Putin may have stakes in other businesses so that the real total may be “much more.” Belkovsky also noted that Putin has not tried to sue him in connection with the claims (Guardian, December 21, 2007).
In an interview posted December 28 on the Kazakhstan-based website Pozitsiya.kz, Belkovsky repeated his claim that Putin controls $40 billion worth of stakes in various companies. Asked whether there had been attempts to “blackmail or threaten” him since he first went public with the claim, Belkovsky said there had not, but added that he did not rule out that such an attempt would be made soon. Asked what will happen if Putin does sue, Belkovsky replied: “If Mr. Putin brings an action against me in the Basmanny Court or the Meshchansky Court of the city of Moscow, then I will hardly be able to defend my position. But if the case is taken up in an honest and impartial court outside Russia, then my chances for success are rather great. If it will be in the Basmanny Court, then I very much hope for support during the period of my prison confinement.”
In his interview with Pozitsiya.kz, Belkovsky insisted, as he has done repeatedly, that Putin will relinquish power completely and that he will not serve as Medvedev’s prime minister, despite Medvedev’s public invitation and Putin’s public acceptance of it (see EDM, December 19, 2007). “Putin never sought after the presidential post; he was persuaded, and he has always had difficulty making decisions in complicated situations,” Belkovsky told the Kazakh website. “He has put off all painful and hard decisions until later. And he has showed himself to be a leader who does not want to remain in power for a long time. He is frightfully tired by the burden of that power. Therefore, I have always believed and [continue to] believe that he will not remain in power in any form, although he will have a certain ceremonial post that guarantees him not so much power as security after leaving office. What post? Thus far, I don’t know.”
Asked by Pozitsiya.kz why Medvedev was chosen to be Putin’s successor, Belkovsky answered: “Because one of the most important problems for the Putin government has not yet been solved – namely, the legalization of the Russian politico-economic elite, its capital, in the West. Precisely for that reason Putin was forced to stake on a candidate with the image of a liberal, who will have a certain carte-blanche from and credit of trust with the West. And a person with the image of a silovik or a Soviet leader – that is, [First Deputy Prime Minister] Sergei Ivanov or [Prime Minister] Viktor Zubkov – would not have such a credit of trust, which would complicate fulfilling this task, perhaps the only unresolved task of Putin’s rule.”
At the same time, Belkovsky said he was “highly skeptical” that a Medvedev administration would observe democratic principles. “Because despite Medvedev’s liberal image, I believe that he will take the course of a further crackdown, not indulgence [or] a thaw. Medvedev, first of all, will be forced to concentrate certain commanding resources in his hands. People who know him characterize him as a tough and strong-willed person, and not the soft good-natured person that flashes across the television screen. And since, on the other hand, he has no answers to the real historical challenges before Russia, and he cannot solve the country’s objective problems, the first response of the Medvedev Kremlin will be to persecute the remains of the opposition and the remaining independent media.” Belkovsky predicted that, in contrast to the Putin period, such repressive actions would be taken “under the flag of liberal rhetoric” (Posit.kz, December 28, 2007).