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Website Views Russian Energy Reform Postponement's Political Aspects

CEP20021231000091 Moscow WWW-Text in Russian 23 Dec 02

[Report by Ivan Chelnok and Andrey Litvinov: "Anatoliy Chubays Stops the Country"]

[FBIS Translated Text]
After the Duma's decision not to examine the electricity industry reform this year, shares in RAO YeES [Unified Energy System of Russia Russian Joint-Stock Company] immediately plunged over 3 percent.  Yet, if we are to believe presidential adviser Andrey Illarionov, Anatoliy Chubays's chief critic, the market's reaction should have been the opposite.

   Monday's Duma Council session decided not to examine the package of draft laws on the reform of the electricity industry in the final days of the fall session -- 24 and 25 December.  People's Deputy leader Gennadiy Raykov on this occasion explained the decision by the deputies' desire to wait for the approval of the law on regulating the natural monopolies' tariffs at the Federation Council, scheduled for 27 December.  The deputies will thus not manage to examine Chubays's reforms at this session.

   The New Date for Discussing the Energy Reform Package is 23 January 2003.  But it too can be seen as hypothetical

   According to Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznev, the precise date will be set at the first Duma Council session after the winter vacation.  Here the deputies have so far "failed to reach a compromise on some government amendments," the lower chamber speaker stressed.

   Speaking last Wednesday at the All-Russia energy congress, RAO YeES head Anatoliy Chubays explained the difficulties in the laws' passage through the Duma by the actions of a group of major and politically influential businessmen who are impeding the progress of the energy reform in order to cause the company's shares to drop and to buy them up as cheaply as possible.

   Gazeta.Ru has already written that according to unofficial reports he is talking about Russkiy Alyuminiy head Oleg Deripaska, Aleksandr Mamut, chairman of the Troyka Dialog investment company board of directors, and Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, who has not lost his interest in Business -- that is figures traditionally linked to the old Kremlin "family."

   Indeed, in the two days after the previous decision by the Duma leadership to postpone the examination of the package of laws on energy reform, the RAO's capitalization declined by $220 million and the state's losses, taking into account its share in the company's capital, were $110 million.  On the other hand it did indeed become easier to buy up shares (whoever it was that did so).

   Once again, the energy holding company's shares showed a negative reaction to the new deferment.  On Monday they had become 3.19 percent cheaper by the end of the trading session at the RTS [Russian Trading System].

   That is, if we are to use Chubays's logic, in one day the state lost about $86 million.  In other words the market obviously sees the postponement of the reform to the spring session as a political and not a technical deferment.  The examination of what is commonly seen as a finished package of documents has been deferred for the third time in the past month and there is no proof that 22 January the package will be examined, still less adopted.

   It is worth noting that one of the chief critics of the present RAO YeES management, the president's economic advisor Andrey Illarionov, has long been insisting on deferring the energy reform.  But the market is certainly not behaving in accordance with his instructions.  Illarionov asserts that investors so dislike the plan of reforms proposed by the RAO itself which (albeit with small amendments) was the basis of the package of draft laws discussed by the Duma, that the reform's approach leads to a decline in the company's shares and deferments or setbacks on the path of reform (for instance sharp criticism of Chubays) leads on the contrary to a rise in prices.

   Today's behavior of the RAO shares refutes Illarionov.  And there is no reason to doubt that Andrey Illarionov is a qualified economist with a fine knowledge of the stock market's psychology.  There would also seem to be no grounds for suspecting him of colluding with the buyers of the cheaper RAO shares.

   But documents in Gazeta.Ru's possession allow us to suppose that the presidential aide's position for the past 18 months has been part of a more complex political game.

   After becoming the president's advisor Illarionov came up against the need to create his own media image.  He did not resolve that task on his own.  The media plan for "A. Illarionov's image positioning" ordered from the PRopaganda PR firm in the summer of last year and now in Gazeta.Ru's possession, immediately after the government's approval of the current version of the reform blueprint will directly set the task of showing Andrey Illarionov as the most skilled "liberal economist of the new era" and Anatoliy Chubays as a very bad manager.  The main thesis is that capitalization collapsed under Chubays.

   Gazeta.Ru has asked Yuliya Mishkinena, Andrey Illarionov's press secretary and at the same time head of the PRopaganda department for work with VIP clients, to comment.  She said that she "is on very good terms with the presidential staff information administration and it was their personal request to work with him (Illarionov).  No one paid us for this campaign."

   It is worth saying that the leading Russian media's real coverage of Illarionov's activity last summer does not fully accord chronologically with the "media plan" although the tone of the items in a number of central publications accords quite accurately with its premises.

However that may be, it emerges from the words of Andrey Illarionov's press secretary that the presidential staff in one way or another tried to promote the disruption of the energy reform, supporting its critic Illarionov with the aid of professional PR men.

   The fact that the RAO YeES reform long ago became a political issue is no secret.  Its aspects that are comprehensible only to professional energy officials are scarcely discussed in the media.  But something else is implied -- that Chubays is leader of the Union of Right-Wing Forces and a potential Russian presidential candidate at the 2008 election.  Illarionov, on the other hand, is close to influential members of the notorious "family."

   And indeed in unofficial conversations the deputies admit that they have received instructions from the Kremlin to "waste Chubays":  Essentially the reform of the RAO YeES is not much more radical than the reform of the Ministry of Railways, which proceeded virtually without a hitch

   At the same energy forum Anatoliy Chubays described the situation sharply:  "In the next few days everything will fall into place -- either a decision will  be adopted on the reform or the country will be brought to a standstill."

   Most likely the consequences of the Duma Council decision will not appear immediately.  Because for the next two weeks the country will come to a standstill for a completely different reason -- the New Year holidays.  And the Duma Council will next discuss the energy industry in 2003.

   The "media plan" is worth citing separately.

"We must proceed between the Scylla and Charybdis of 'kvas patriotism' and blind deference to the West.  A reference to Illarionov's position";

   "Thoughts on the position of Kasyanov and his cabinet.  The thesis that there are few dynamic, vivid, and bold people in the government who know how to defend their position as Illarionov does."

   "For the ironic belittlement of Chubays's image use can be made of stickers (showing Chubays with the slogan 'don't stick your fingers in the electric socket!') and leaflets and comic strips (with a diagram showing 'Chubays's Evolution' to illustrate the degree of his political and human degeneration in the past decade)."

[Description of Source: Moscow WWW-Text in Russian -- Website reportedly financed by Yukos oil company and often critical of the government.]


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