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By John Helmer, Moscow

It must be the sea air at Vladivostok that causes temporary clumsiness and misspeaking on the part of President Vladimir Putin (lead image, left) during the carefully orchestrated question-and-answer session of the annual Far Eastern Economic Forum.

At the forum in September 2018, asked about British government and media reports of two Russian military intelligence soldiers using Novichok to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, Putin said he knew their names and denied they were GRU agents. “Of course, they are civilians,” he said in Vladivostok.

Again in Vladivostok on Tuesday this week, asked about Anatoly Chubais (right), the former Kremlin chief of staff and privatisation chief during the Yeltsin administration who has moved to Israel, Putin referred to him as “Moshe Israelevich”. Putin added: “the fact [is] that Anatoly Borisovich is hiding there [Israel] for some reason… I was shown some kind of photo from the Internet, where he is no longer Anatoly Borisovich Chubais, but some kind of Moshe Israelevich, lives there somewhere… Why he’s doing this, I don’t understand why he ran away.”  

The US government propaganda agency and the Russian opposition have called Putin anti-Semitic for referring to Israel and calling Chubais “Moshe Israelevich”.

They were ignoring the context and Putin’s complimentary remarks about other Russian runaways to Israel, before he got to Chubais.

So was Putin misspeaking, or was he launching his presidential re-election campaign by trying to reassure two opposing blocs of Russians – the majority of voters who have long regarded Chubais as one of the most hated politicians in the country; and the Russian oligarchs for whom the current investigation of Chubais for billion-dollar theft of state funds is a harbinger of their own fate?

On September 12, 2018, Putin led the plenary session of the Vladivostok forum with state guests, the presidents of China, Japan, South Korea,  and Mongolia. The moderator of the session was the journalist Sergei Brilyov, who worked at the time for the state television channel Rossiya.

Left to Shinzo Abe, Xi Jinping, and Lee Nak-yeon. The Mongolian president, Khaltmaagiin Battulga, is on Putin’s immediate left but in the photograph is screened by the South Korean president.  Source: http://en.kremlin.ru/

The Kremlin verbatim text reports this exchange of five years ago:    

“Sergei Brilyov: In the past three to four days, at least two theories have been advanced as to what happened to those two young men, photographed in the United Kingdom in connection with the Skripal case. Either they deliberately poked their faces towards the camera in order to be photographed, or they are completely unprofessional to have their images captured by all the cameras. Perhaps you have a third theory?

“Vladimir Putin: Actually, we have, of course, taken a look at these people. We already know who they are, and we have located them. I hope they will show up and tell everyone about themselves. This would be better for everyone. I assure you that there is nothing special or criminal here. We will see shortly.

“Sergei Brilyov: Are they civilians?

“Vladimir Putin: Of course, they are civilians.

“Sergei Brilyov: All right, we will wait.

Vladimir Putin: I would like to address them, so they can hear us today. Let them come to a media outlet and tell everything.”  

The British media had named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as GRU agents whose presence in London, then Salisbury at the time of the Novichok attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Putin’s claim they were civilians was untrue. On the next day, the two men – GRU Colonel Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoly Chepiga – appeared on national television to give their account of their trip to Salisbury in March of that year.   

Source: US state propaganda agency Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  Read the true story, starting here.  

This week in Vladivostok, at the same forum, the state guests were the Vice Premier of China’s  State Council,  Zhang Guoqing,  and Vice President of the Lao Republic, Pany Yathotou. Only the Laotian appeared on the platform during Putin’s speech. The moderator was journalist, Ilya Doronov, managing director of the RBC television channel.

Left to right: Ilya Doronov, President Putin, and Pany Yathotou. Source: http://en.kremlin.ru

The Kremlin website has published the video and transcript of yesterday’s session, including the official English translation.   

Doronov introduced his line of questioning by saying he wanted discuss “relations between the state and the business community, including those who are returning here…. I interviewed Andrei Belousov [First Deputy Prime Minister] ahead of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum [June 14-17, 2023], and I asked him how the state and the business community should interact. He said that they should collaborate as partners, with the state being a senior partner, while the business community is a junior partner.”

Putin replied: “Did he say this?

“Ilya Doronov: Yes, this is what he said.

“Vladimir Putin: He is talking like a former State Planning Committee official. We should be equal partners. 

“Ilya Doronov: Nevertheless, you have already said that they should be equal partners. In principle, do you get the impression that the state’s presence in the economy and in business is becoming excessive?

Vladimir Putin: We are hearing this, and they are talking about this all the time. Yes, we have major companies, especially in the energy sector; however, private companies are developing rapidly, and we support them, including here in the Far East.”  

Doronov went on to ask Putin about Central Bank restrictions on business cashflows, loan interest rates, and rouble exchange and capital export controls proposed by some government officials. Putin replied: “What are they doing? They are just trying to scare people by proposing that they cooperate on peaceful terms and undertake specific actions or else, they say, we will impose restrictions and force you to repatriate your revenue, etc. However, no one will make any sudden moves in this regard.”

Doronov then asked Putin about Alexei Kudrin who left the Accounting Chamber in November 2022, and has not been replaced. “Ilya Doronov: I have a question about the Accounts Chamber – it has been without a head since November last year. What is the reason? Alexei Kudrin was so good that they cannot find a replacement? If so, why did they let him go to Yandex in the first place?

“Vladimir Putin: First of all, Russia has no slave system – if he wanted to go on to work in business, we cannot force him to stay. Even though he was indeed the best fit for the job; he had been a good Minister of Finance, too.”

Kudrin is the longest-running candidate for regime change in the Kremlin who is not in jail, or outside the country – click to open the archive here.  

Source: https://johnhelmer.net/ 

Doronov then asked Putin about Arkady Volozh, the controlling shareholder of Yandex who has moved to Israel where last month he attacked the Russian war policy.  “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is barbaric, and I am categorically against it,” Volozh said in a statement. “I am horrified about the fate of people in Ukraine – many of them my personal friends and relatives – whose houses are being bombed every day.”   Volozh and Kudrin are collaborating in the restructuring of Yandex and they have met often in Israel; Volozh employs Kudrin.  Read more on the Yandex transactions here   and the Volozh archive.  

Putin did not mention the still secret terms of the reorganisation he has agreed for the Yandex assets and the payoffs to Volozh and Kudrin. But the president was emphatically positive toward Volozh personally.   

“Ilya Doronov: I mentioned Yandex for a reason. Recently, Arkady Volozh created his own official website, where he says – I will quote it verbatim – that he is ‘a Kazakhstan-born, Israeli tech entrepreneur’ who ‘co-founded NASDAQ-listed Yandex N.V., one of the largest internet companies in Europe.’ I will remind you that Volozh was born in 1964, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, but there is no mention of the Soviet Union on his biography page. We have other businesspeople who publicly express their opinion, including their view on the special military operation. Where would you say is the line that should not be crossed? A line that even those who have contributed as much value to the nation as Yandex, should not cross?

“Vladimir Putin: Look, it is not for me to draw this line. It should be in the minds and should remain on the conscience of those people who make certain statements. I would like to emphasise that in most cases people make such statements because they want to preserve their business, to preserve their assets, especially if they have moved and decided to bind their lives to another country.  He lives in Israel, and I can imagine that, to live a good and prosperous life there and have good relations with authorities, he has to make certain statements. He had been silent for a long time before he decided to make a statement. God grant him health and may he live well there. Frankly speaking, we are not particularly bothered by what he said. But in general, if a person grew up on this soil, got an education and became successful, he should have some respect for the country that gave him everything. I am not referring to Volozh – he is a gifted person who created a really good company and handpicked a team – I am not referring to him, but in general. Yes, one can imagine that a person does not agree with what the current authorities are doing. Do they have the right to express their views? By all means. But there are quite a few fine points here.

“We can side with our geopolitical adversaries and play along with them, thus damaging our country’s interests, or we can act otherwise. There are many nuances here. People decide for themselves who they are. Do they have a sense of national identity? Or do they prefer to mimic and feel like someone else, not a Russian person born in the Soviet Union? A person makes their own choices. Rest assured that ordinary citizens of Russia, our people, understand everything perfectly well and there is no way to mislead anyone. If someone has chosen a new destiny, let them try to make themselves known there, to prove themselves and to achieve results. Because whoever they may be, whatever results they have achieved, they have achieved them here, and it is not guaranteed that they will achieve the same in some other place. This is their choice.”

Volozh (left) meeting Putin at Yandex’s Moscow headquarters on September 21, 2018; Volozh returned from Israel for the occasion.  Source: http://en.kremlin.ru/

Then Doronov asked Putin about Chubais.

“Igor Doronov: About the new destiny, after another question: in July, an article by an independent expert from Glasgow was published in the Russian magazine ‘Economic Issues’. Glasgow is Scotland.

“Vladimir Putin: I’m aware of that.

“Igor Doronov: I’m speaking for the audience. I have no doubt that you are aware. The article is called ‘Non-payments in the Russian economy of the 90s. An unforeseen institution.’ Do you know who the author is? Anatoly Chubais. He is actually represented in this article as an independent British scientist.”

Published in Russia in July 2023:  https://www.vopreco.ru/

“I have a question: Do you trust British scientists at all?

“Vladimir Putin: You know, I trust scientists regardless of their nationality. If they are serious people, serious researchers, I don’t just trust them, I admire their work, their life, the results of their work, because a real scientist is immersed in the topic he is engaged in, these people put their whole lives on the cause to which they devoted it, they don’t even regret their lives. There are countless examples both in our country and abroad. If they are fooling around, of course, they are not scientists, then they are quasi-scientists, they entertain the public. Also not bad, let them fool around. Although you can go to the circus, there is something to see in the circus.

“The fact that Anatoly Borisovich is hiding there for some reason… I was shown some kind of photo from the Internet, where he is no longer Anatoly Borisovich Chubais, but some kind of Moshe Israelevich, lives there somewhere… Why he’s doing this, I don’t understand why he ran away. You see, it may also be due to the fact that complex processes are going on in this structure of nanotechnology, which he headed for many years, and there is a big hole, a huge financial hole, really. I’m not even going to call the numbers now, big numbers. But there, thank God, there are no criminal cases or prosecutions. Maybe this is due to the fact that he fears that eventually all this will lead to the emergence of some criminal cases, which is why he switched, in Israel even switched to an illegal position. What the hell does he need, I honestly don’t understand.

“Igor Doronov: The opinion of a man who worked in Dresden [reference to Putin’s KGB posting, 1985-90], right?

“Vladimir Putin: Well, some nonsense. Still writes… A smart person, I haven’t read this article, maybe he wrote something useful. However, apparently, such activity at the head of a large company that was created for the development of nanotechnology – at least from an economic point of view, from a financial point of view – it seems that he clearly failed.

“Igor Doronov: The question, oddly enough, is about privatisation and deprivation [confiscation]. There is now an idea of a new privatisation in Russia, but the topic that is now very much worrying business and is being discussed here, on the sidelines of the WEF [World Economic Forum, Davos], and in Moscow they are talking about it is deprivation [confiscation], when the state, as it were, can be said, takes assets in its favour. And there are already several such cases. Businessmen say that we do not understand: have any rules changed or how do we look to the future in this situation? The topic is quite acute. How would you comment on it?

Vladimir Putin: No, there is no deprivation [confiscation] planned, there will be no deprivation, I can tell you that for sure. The fact that the prosecutor’s office is actively working in certain areas, for individual companies – law enforcement agencies have the right to assess what is happening in the economy in specific cases, but this is not related to any decisions about deprivation. This will not happen, and [Prosecutor General] Igor Viktorovich [Krasnov] knows my position. Igor Viktorovich?”  

The US and Israeli media headlined Putin as making an anti-Semitic crack. This is how the US government propaganda agency reported the remarks. “President Vladimir Putin suggested that Anatoly Chubais, a former top government official who fled after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, may have left due to financial irregularities at the state-run corporation he oversaw. Putin’s comments, made on September 12 at an economic forum in Vladivostok, were the first he’s made about Chubais since he abruptly resigned last March and fled Russia… Asked by the event moderator about reports that Chubais was living in Israel, Putin replied, using what appeared to be an anti-Semitic remark.”  

Source:  https://www.rferl.org/

Source: https://www.haaretz.com/

The Russian state news agency Tass reported part of Putin’s remarks about Chubais but left out the “Moshe Israelevich” comment.   RT included it but headlined its report with the prosecutors’ investigation of Chubais’s self-enrichment at Rusnano.

RT, the state news agency, reported the Chubais reference and included the “Moshe Israelevich”.

Meduza, the Russian regime change platform based in Latvia, reported Chubais as responding to Putin by announcing: “I would not like to comment on anything that has been said.”  Chubais said this to Tass, according to the Tass Telegram report on Tuesday afternoon.  

RT, Tass, Meduza,  and the Moscow business newspapers  all omitted to report that Putin had declared  there will be no prosecution of Chubais for the Rusnano thefts.

No Russian or western commentator or reporter has yet interpreted Putin’s remarks in the context of the renationalisation of the methanol producer Metrafax; this occurred in August after officials won a Perm court order reversing the privatisation of the company because of initial violations of the prevailing law.  This is despite Putin’s explicit warning to Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov – renationalisation “will not happen”.

The president had not spoken as plainly when he and Krasnov met at the Kremlin last January. Then Krasnov told Putin: “We have continued to protect property interests of the state, primarily where third parties tried to benefit, based on their premeditated and selfish interests. Thus, more than 16,000 claims concerning state and municipal property have been filed with courts.

Moreover, we also continue to return state control over strategic enterprises that are important for our country’s security and defence, the control over which was illegally seized by third parties, including in favour of foreign agencies, the state control of which has been illegally lost.”

Putin appeared to be endorsing Krasnov’s line, replying: “I can see that recently, you have toughened control over securing the economic interests of the state, including in view of national projects and significant funds that the state allocates for the priority areas of the country’s economic development… Another priority is overseeing investigation and questioning, an important aspect related to the interests of the state and citizens. Of course, it is a complex issue and a special mission for the prosecution service. I am certain that you will continue working on this…. I hope that the prosecution agencies and all staff will remain tenacious and productive in the short-term and, of course, mid-term perspective. Thank you. Now, let’s address some issues more closely.”  .

Left: Putin meeting Krasnov at the Kremlin on January 31, 2023. Right, Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, in Vladivostok this week.

The Kremlin communiqué is silent on the discussion which followed. Krasnov then moved in Perm court against the private shareholders of Metrafax. In Vladivostok on Tuesday morning, Putin implied that he didn’t approve.

Putin was also responding to a public call at the forum by Alexander Shokhin, the chief oligarch lobbyist in Moscow, for the president to stop the state prosecutors from renationalising companies whose foreign owners have left the country, or whose Russian owners took them over illegally. Shokhin told RBC that “cases of nationalisation of private assets are worrying the business community. No one knows who may be next in line… business could change several owners from the moment of privatisation and the final owner could be in a worse position. Therefore, decisions should be made based on what kind of asset it is, in what condition it is, how much has been invested in it. Stability in the current conditions is more important than secondary grounds in order to take assets from the current owners.”  

In Vladivostok also, Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch who stole his Russian Aluminium (Rusal) assets from Mikhail Chernoy according to the evidence filed in the British courts,  warned Putin not to risk his re-election campaign by high-profile takeovers of private shareholdings, like the Metrafax case.  “I must frankly say that, of course, attempts are being made. But it will depend on all of us. There will be some one-time cases, or else there will already become a trend. We understand what happened: there was a global disruption, then we were faced with our institutional choice, which added difficult challenges, there was a small stage of stabilisation. Now there is an adjustment — we are trying to find a model that will allow us to develop for the next 10-15 years.”

Deripaska (right) went on to issue his election warning to Putin. “It is too early to say that the government and business have reached some,  let’s say, mutually understood level. It’s natural.   We just need to understand that the government  is also solving problems related to the crisis.  It is in a slightly different paradigm. You just need to give them time. Now they have a better  situation, respectively, they have more time. They  started analysing all the other processes. The  election campaign will begin, and, of course, there  will be a new dialogue between the government  and society, government and business, between business and society. I hope and believe in this, because it would be a profound mistake to abandon the achievements that were so hard to come by: the market economy, the institution of law, competitiveness, private property, they allowed us to go from decline to growth so quickly. But I think that more than one dialogue will be needed, and the authorities stressed today [Putin’s speech] that they are ready for this dialogue.”  

A well-informed Moscow source,  who supports the president and the war,  reacted: “Putin is distancing himself, pretending he has never cared much for [Chubais]. Scripted or otherwise he is trying to ingratiate himself with the patriotic vote.  It’s low-cost politically. It’s a stunt.”

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