Recently Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spoken of reversing the massive privatization that took place in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Those events in the 1990s triggered a new economic class of Oligarchs, instant multimillionaires resulting from the control of key industries formerly held by the government.
Some see the Prime Minister’s idea as an act of justice – returning to the Russian people the wealth generated from the privatization of the immediate post-Communist era. Others however point to the increasing state control over industry and charge that such wealth merely changes hands from someone not associated with the government to someone with strong ties to the Kremlin.
Campaigning in Yekaterinburg earlier today, presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov admitted that while the era of the 90s did result in many inequalities, those industries privatized played an immensely important role in lifting the Russian economy out of depression and helped bring about the eventual stabilization of the economy.
Prokhorov warned his audience that reasserting government ownership would place even more key industries in the control of the government and that actions to wrest ownership of private companies would likely result in a civil war in Russia.
Using a press conference in Yekaterinburg to speak to Russians across the region, Prokhorov admitted that the privatization of the 90’s was anything but fair for the average Russian. “Privatization has been unfair, I admit, I myself was involved. However, any revision of privatization usually leads to civil war.”
As for the government tactic of isolating Oligarchs one at a time, Prokhorov told listeners that if citizens continue to allow individuals to be taxed and jailed one at a time, eventually the same fate awaits everyone in the country, even those who received free apartments during that era. Many Russians were eventually given title to their state-owned apartment homes during the privatization period.
Prokhorov said that Russians should admit to the inequalities and acknowledge injustice but move forward rather than tear the country apart. “Let’s be honest, we (must) say, privatization was unfair. Turn the page, put an end (to it).”
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told the congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs on February 9 that government had a responsibility to force businesses to “close” the issue. Many Russian business leaders fear that companies would be forced to pay the government for the privilege of remaining private or the government would take over companies as in the famous Yukos case.
Prokhorov suggested that perhaps a one-time fee could be required to be paid and distributed to citizens. He pointed out however that it was the government responsible for the auctions of the 1990s.
Many Russians however remain skeptical about Prokhorov, saying he is a Kremlin stooge to give the appearance of legitimate election on March 4. The Moscow Times wrote, “His platform was a protester’s dream: free and fair elections, political pluralism, economic competition, less red tape, less bureaucracy. He would break up state-run monopolies, boost investment in infrastructure and education and do away with censorship of television.”
As reported by Russian Beyond the Headlines, “The large turnout at rallies both for and against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow and other Russian cities has revealed a deep divide in Russian society. The organizers of the protests for fair elections claim that their gatherings attract members of the middle class who are dissatisfied with the powers-that-be and want to make Russia’s political system more democratic.”
Prokhoro is ranked by Forbes as Russia’s third richest man with a fortune of $18 billion. He owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team in the USA and has said that he would divest the team if elected President.
On February 9 Prokhorov signed a cooperation agreement with the “League of the voters” a new coalition of opposition groups.