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79 Foreign Aff. 18 (2000)
Putin's Plutocrat Problem

handle is hein.journals/fora79 and id is 222 raw text is: Putin's Plutocrat Problem
Lee S. Wolosky
WHEN RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin resigned on December
31 of last year, he thrust Vladimir Putin, a relative unknown, into the
limelight. Today, just a few months later, it is still too early to deter-
mine the extent of the former KGB agent's commitment to democracy
and free markets. But if Putin decides to match words with deeds, he
will enjoy an encouraging alignment of the political stars. Unlike
Yeltsin, Putin can count on the support of the public and of the Duma,
Russia's lower house of parliament. He has also built bridges with
rival political leaders. For a limited time at least, he can use this support
to press ahead with difficult reforms.
To do so, however, he must first rein in a dangerous posse ofplutocrats
riding roughshod over the country. This is something his predecessor
could not, or would not, achieve. On the contrary, these oligarchs-
Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Roman Abramovich,
Mikhail Fridman, and others-largely co-opted Yeltsin's govern-
ments, silencing most opposition to their conduct. As a consequence,
they now threaten Russia's transition to democracy and free markets.
They also threaten vital U.S. interests, because America's long-term
security is best assured by the success of Russia's transformation.
The oligarchs dominate Russian public life through massive fraud
and misappropriation, particularly in the oil sector. Oil is of over-
whelming importance to Russia and the oligarchs. Prior to its collapse,
the Soviet Union was the world's largest oil producer. Oil companies
LEE S. WOLOSKY is International Affairs Fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations and Deputy Director of the Council's Economic Task
Force on Russia.


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