Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vlad Doing It Right For Himself

Russia's richest man sees Putin in charge to 2020
Sun Apr 27, 2008 4:33pm EDT
By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Alexandras Budrys
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's richest man, Oleg Deripaska, has said he is convinced Vladimir Putin will remain fully in charge of Russia until 2020, even though he is stepping down as president on May 7.
The media-shy business mogul, with interests stretching from metals and oil to airports and cement, also said that the West should stop fearing Russia.
"I see no political risks (after May 7). Living in Russia makes me confident," he said in a rare chat with journalists in one of Moscow's top restaurants, the Cafe Pushkin. His comments on Friday were embargoed for publication on Sunday.
Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's chosen successor who won the March presidential election with a landslide, will be sworn in on May 7 but the hugely popular Putin has vowed to be prime minister.
Medvedev has pledged loyalty to his political mentor and promised to implement "the Putin plan", a set of goals to make Russia a developed country by 2020.
"His (Medvedev's) role is important. But you need to understand -- it's a big challenge to take responsibility. As I understand Putin accepted this responsibility to develop 2020 goals," said Deripaska, who spoke English for most of the interview.
Valued by Forbes magazine at $28.6 billion -- though he says that is exaggerated -- Deripaska was considered one of the oligarchs closest to Putin's forerunner as president, Boris Yeltsin, in the 1990s.
Now 40, he started his fortune in aluminum, a business known for violent battles in the 1990s. His former business partners have filed many suits against him alleging illegal business tactics but had no success.
While other oligarchs fell from grace, like Boris Berezovsky who fled Russia or jailed oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky, he not only survived under Putin but has flourished, tripling the size of his empire since 2000.
"It is of course important to have good relations, to be nice with everyone," he said.
Relations with the United States are less cordial, however, after Washington revoked his visa over concerns about possible ties to organized crime.
"My competitors may have spread negative information about me and may have found attentive ears in the United States. They have their own policy towards Russia," he said.
"The United States is the last country I would invest now. If the government is unreasonably pushing us out, why should we stay there and solve their problems?"
Deripaska, whose main investment vehicle is a company called Basic Element, has expanded into other countries abroad and owns stakes in Austrian construction group Strabag and Canadian carmaker Magna.
He dismisses the widespread market perception that clearing deals with the Kremlin is a key precondition for doing business in Russia, despite the fact that all global majors had to first meet Putin before announcing bid partnerships in the country.
"It is a mistake (to think that)," he said a day after closing a deal in which RUSAL, the world's largest primary aluminum producer which he controls, bought 25 percent in the world's largest nickel producer, Norilsk Nickel.

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