While one of Russia’s “monopolists,” Rem Vyakhirev, appeared to be headed for history’s ash-heap, another was doing quite well–namely, Anatoly Chubais, Russia’s electricity tsar and perhaps the all-time champion survivor of Russia’s Darwinian high politics. Chubais essentially won his long battle to dictate the terms for restructuring United Energy Systems (UES)–the state-controlled Russian electrical power grid, of which he is CEO–when the government approved a plan under which the state will take control of the electricity transmission system while overseeing the creation of five to seven power generating companies over three years.
The plan was more or less the one Chubais had been pushing–and which his foes, including UES minority shareholders and Andrei Illarionov, Putin’s economic adviser, warned would benefit UES insiders at everyone else’s expense. Indeed, Illarionov–an economist with an impressive record for supporting free-market policies and for predicting economic disasters like the August 1998 financial crash–predicted that the plan would mean “a handover of enormous portions of state property to God knows whom at giveaway prices,” much like an earlier Chubais-sponsored project–the notorious 1995 loans-for-shares privatization scheme.
Chubais, meanwhile, publicly expressed disappointment at the sluggish timetable of the government’s UES restructuring plan. This, however, seemed little more than a bit of strategically placed false modesty: Indeed, the Financial Times reported that UES’s management held a celebratory banquet following the plan’s adoption. After that, Chubais jetted off to Washington, where he met with, among others, U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney. While the official reason for the Cheney-Chubais meeting was to discuss the issues electricity generation and investment, most Russian observers saw it as a preparatory meeting for next month’s Bush-Putin summit and, concomitantly, a sign of the tremendous political power that Russia’s electricity tsar continues to wield.