Putin makes his moves

Putin makes his moves

Kremlin reloading after shot at Yukos

Vladimir Putin appears to be planning to take control of Russian oil, and also to make private companies completely subordinate to the state.

“Putin’s aim is to restore the state,” said Dmitry Rogozin, a Putin envoy and co-leader of the populist-nationalist Rodina bloc, which rode an anti-oligarch platform into the State Duma earlier this month.

“The state was very weak under [former President Boris] Yeltsin. It was filled with oligarchs that dictated their will to a puppet leader, which also left Russia weak in the global arena. Now a trend has been set in motion that is making Russia more of an equal player.”

Washington is not pleased.

“A creeping coup against the forces of democracy and market capitalism in Russia is threatening the foundation of the U.S.-Russia relationship and raising the specter of a new era of cold peace between Washington and Moscow,” <Sen. John> McCain told the Senate last month. “The United States cannot enjoy a normal relationship, much less a partnership, with a country that increasingly appears to have more in common with its Soviet and tsarist predecessors than with the modern state Vladimir Putin claims to aspire to build.”

McCain also called for an investment blockade of Russia and for the continued enforcement of discriminatory trading restrictions imposed on Russia under the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which the U.S. has been promising to lift for years.

Russia’s response? Even harsher rhetoric.

Why all the blustering from McCain?

“If Yukos is not sold for cheap to the United States, and the state in the meantime is able to take control of Russia’s biggest company to form a syndicate of major oil companies, it will increase the resources of the Russian state and increase its influence on the world arena,” said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst.

The plot thickens further. Many Russian oligarchs have, for years, and sometimes decades, cultivated close ties with US policy makers. Ties that now put them on a collision course with Putin.

Chubais, the architect of the rigged loans-for-shares scheme by which many of the state’s most valuable assets were sold for a song, was a key ally of the Clinton administration. Chubais studied under former Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Larry Summers at Harvard in the late 1980s

Khodorkovsky has spent years pursuing what is essentially a personal, pro-American foreign policy, cultivating contacts with the most influential politicians, diplomats, bankers and public relations specialists in Washington — actions the siloviki, a group of hawks in the Kremlin made up of former KGB men, consider reprehensible.

The ex-KGB fox, Putin, has acted, and acted boldly. This story will only get bigger.

As Russia ramped up oil output following the August 1998 crisis to a level where this year it briefly surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s top producer, the fear in Riyadh was that Russia was doing so at the behest of America, according to a source close to OPEC. That all changed, however, when Khodorkovsky’s partner, Platon Lebedev was arrested in July. The arrest of a Yukos billionaire signaled a sea change in the Kremlin’s relationship with big oil — that the government was intent on reining in its independent giants.

“They didn’t see the distance between the companies and the government,” said the source, who was in Riyadh when Lebedev was arrested. “But the arrest made it clearer.”

Kind of like three-dimensional chess, isn’t it?