Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Russia’s significant seven

Power in Russia is split between four traditional factions - old-school siloviki, post-Soviet liberals, big business and the church.
That's according to Forbes magazine, whose power list surprised nobody by naming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the third most powerful person in the world, behind Barack Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintao, but far ahead of President Dmitry Medvedev, who came in at No. 43.
However, the inclusion of Deputy PM Igor Sechin - seen as a hard-line Putin ally - one place ahead of the more liberal Medvedev on the global list gave a clear nod in the direction of the siloviki faction.
The sitting president still has his allies in the corridors of power, though, according to Forbes Russia editor Maxim Kashulinsky.
He drew up the list of most influential Russians, and included Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin - regarded as a fellow liberal - at No.4.
But as long as oil remains the driving force of modern Russia, Forbes argues, Sechin's role in securing natural resource deals around the world make him more powerful than the president's men.
Unlike the West, where politics is often seen as subservient to big business, it's clear that there's no danger of that tail wagging the Kremlin's dog.
Lukoil president Vagit Alekperov and oligarch Oleg Deripaska come in fifth and sixth on the Russian list, respectively.
And the Forbes rationale highlights Alekperov's longevity in the key oil sector as a consequence of his steering clear of politics.
"[He] has effectively survived where many oligarchs have not, by staying away from political games and continuing to invest in his core business," Forbes Russia concluded.
Deripaska's place in the Russian power vertical was made plain in June when Putin summoned the billionaire to a factory in Pikalyovo and gave him a dressing down reminiscent of a headmaster dealing with someone smoking behind the bike sheds.
However, since then the boss of Basic Element has proved to the government that the 200,000 jobs he provides make him too big to cast aside - successfully renegotiating $20 billion of debts which had him on the brink of collapse.
Forbes' final key power-broker is Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and rated by some as the human face of Russia's political and social order.
When Russia's record on HIV/AIDS control came under fire at the United Nations recently, the state's chief medic Gennady Onishchenko argued that the church's influence should be used to curb sexual promiscuity and drug use.
Tellingly, in Russia there was no room for a significant media figure on the list. While Rupert Murdoch was ranked seventh worldwide and Oprah Winfrey stood at 45 on the global list, no figure from Russian journalism featured in Kashulinsky's group of movers and shakers.

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