The Russian government is under strong pressure from the IMF to break up the country’s "natural monopolies" — gas supply, railways, and electricity generation. Until now, the government has shown little will to regulate these powerful industries and what efforts it has made to diversify ownership and foster competition have been fiercely and successfully resisted both by the industries and by their supporters within the government itself. The only person openly canvassing for increased competition is Economics Minister Yevgeni Yasin. Confusion now reigns over the recent dismissal of Leonid Bochin, head of Russia’s anti-monopoly committee. (Financial Times, February 18) Bochin claims he was sacked because he advocated structural reform of the monopolies, and that his committee was deliberately starved of resources to ensure that it would remain powerless in the face of the mighty monopolies, which wield not only economic but also enormous political clout. Government officials retort that Bochin was dismissed because of his inactivity and that a government working group is actively working on proposals for restructuring the monopolies.
Bochin’s successor has not yet been named; when this happens, it may be clearer what the government’s intentions are. But Bochin is certainly correct when he complains about the weakness of the government institutions that are supposed to regulate the monopolies. According to a recent article in Izvestia, the staff assigned to monitor pricing amounts to "2-3 Ministry of Economics officials" per industry. The government is not attempting to regulate the monopolies, Izvestia asserted, because it is simply "scared" of them. (Izvestia, February 6)
Moscow Literary Row.