Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 38

Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed’s search for allies in his battle with local “oligarch” Anatoly Bykov has not fared well. On February 15 Lebed reached an agreement with Anatoly Chubais–head of United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s state electricity monopoly–that UES would extend Krasugol, the Krasnoyarsk region’s coal holding company, 72 million rubles (around US$3 million) to prevent Krasugol’s bankruptcy, which is reportedly being engineered by Bykov. Chubais himself promised that he would not let Krasugol be bankrupted. The following day, however, it became known that UES, which is reportedly trying to take control of energy-producing enterprises in a number of regions through mergers, had demanded 60 percent of the shares in three of the region’s mines as collateral for its credit to Krasugol. The deal with UES was signed by Krasugol’s head, but Lebed insists he did not authorize handing over stakes in the coal mines in return for the credit, and says that he will challenge the agreement’s legality (Expert, February 22; see the Monitor, January 25, 29).

“Komsomolskaya pravda” today quoted UES officials as insisting that they are only trying to save Krasugol from bankruptcy, and explaining their demand for shares as collateral for their loan by the fact that UES is “not a charitable organization, but a joint-stock company.” In the paper’s view, UES is using Krasnoyarsk as a test case in its effort to clean up the crisis of nonpayments and the criminalization of the electricity market. It reported that Chubais managed to force Bykov’s Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory to pay off an unpaid US$280 million electricity bill after local energy officials received threats and had to be put under guard. The paper quoted an official in the fuel and energy ministry as saying that a takeover of Krasnoyarsk’s coal mines by Chubais was preferable to their takeover by structures controlled by Bykov (Komsomolskaya pravda, February 24). “Komsomolskaya pravda,” it should be noted, is controlled by Chubais’ ally Oneksimbank, and tends to be sympathetic to the former privatization tsar in its reporting.

While Chubais has repeatedly insisted that his activities as UES head are technocratic and apolitical, it is likely that his attempt to assert control over Russia’s coal and electricity sectors–including in Krasnoyarsk–is at least partly motivated by his desire to make UES a financial base for the ousted “young reformers” and, possibly, Just Cause, their new “center-right” political coalition. It should be noted that several of the “young reformers” who lost their government jobs in recent months–former Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and former Economics Minister Yakov Urinson–have found employment at UES.