At the “Cabinet Lounge” on Monday, January 30th, Aleksei Navalny delivered a presentation to roughly fifty investment bankers — many of whom are gathered in Moscow this week for “The Russia Forum,” organized by Troika Dialog and Sberbank. The next day, Navalny on his blog joked that the bankers were curiously paranoid that an oppositionist victory over Putin would lead to looting wine warehouses. He added:
“Most interesting was the unofficial part [of the event], when we began to argue about a one-time compensatory tax on the results of [post-soviet] privatization.”
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s “Emerging Europe” blog published an article by Ira Iosebashvili, titled “Russian Opposition Instigator Inspires Financial Crowd.” The post begins:
“Moscow’s financial community has met the most recognizable figure of Russia’s nascent opposition movement — and some became spellbound.”
Mr. Iosebashvili’s text relies on comments from two eyewitnesses to Navalny’s presentation: chief economist at Renaissance Capital, Ivan Chakarov, and another anonymous source. Reading over the article, it is never clear why the author uses words like “spellbound” or “inspired” to describe the reactions of the bankers who attended on Monday. Chakarov, for instance, has been quoted at length in both Gazeta.ru and Forbes.ru in the last two days — and his comments are far from exuberant.
Today, Business New Europe published an 1800-word op-ed (in English) by Chakarov himself, where he said that Navalny failed to convince him that he wasn’t angling for a presidential run, and called his economic views “fuzzy.” Meanwhile, other bankers such as Citibank’s Andrei Kuznetsov and Diamond Age Capital’s Slava Rabinovich told Forbes.ru that they were pleased to hear Navalny praise economist Sergei Guriev (who incidentally is a board member at Sberbank, co-host of “The Russia Forum”). However, they apparently lectured Navalny afterwards that Guriev would not support his compensatory tax on businesses that profited from privatization, and while Rabinovich said that he disagreed with only 34% of Navalny’s platform, he confessed that it was enough to prevent him from currently voting for him in any election.
Asia Chachko and Ksenia Chudinova of Snob.ru live-blogged from the Cabinet Lounge, paraphrasing Navalny’s remarks. There are plenty of interesting details in their report, but I’d like to draw readers’ attention to Navalny’s following mid-presentation comments:
“There is the concept of ‘Putin 2.0’: that the ‘good’ Putin will come along and lock up the corrupt and the cardsharps, becoming the champion of all that’s good against all that’s evil. But this isn’t going to happen, and I’ll explain why: not long ago, a person from one of the major oil companies came to me and said that he knows exactly who needs to be kicked out and locked up, in order to make the company’s work efficient. But they can’t do this, because as soon as certain people understand that storm-clouds are gathering, they run to Timchenko and Sechin, who step in [to protect them]. If you don’t get rid of certain people, changes are impossible.”
Gazeta.ru’s report on Navalny’s “road show” with the bankers also paraphrased his Sechin comment, but it excluded any mention of Timchenko and was worded slightly differently. Whereas Snob.ru has Navalny saying that corrupt officials run to Timchenko and Sechin for protection, Gazeta.ru has him blaming Sechin “and his krysha” for mismanaging anti-corruption initiatives. Is the difference significant? Which did he actually say?
Navalny’s alleged ties to Igor Sechin are a major pillar of the conspiracy theories about his backers, and it’s potentially useful to note specific attacks by the former on the latter. In the past, I’ve asked pro-Kremlin bloggers to produce evidence substantiating Sechin’s sponsorship of Navalny, and so far I’ve seen nothing. I’m still waiting.