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When Louis XIV was dying in 1715, he had ruled for 72 years, the longest period of absolute one-man rule in the history of Europe to that time, or in the time that followed.

So long in fact, that almost all the lawful heirs to the throne of France were dead – Louis’ son, his grandsons, and all but one of his great-grandsons.

That led his two bastard sons and bastard daughter into a conspiracy to put them in line to succeed, in case Louis, the five-year old great-grandson, died prematurely. To ensure success, they stoked the allegation that Louis’ nephew, Philippe, Duke of Orleans, had poisoned the others to capture the succession for himself.

As Philippe was lawfully the regent until little Louis could be proclaimed king, the bastards obliged old Louis to add a codicil to his will, putting the troops of the royal palaces and supervision of the boy under the control of the bastards. The codicil was signed as the black spots of gangrene were rising up the king’s bedridden legs, just seven days before he died.

Since the governments of states also succumb to gangrene, and ambitious bastards are everywhere, it’s prudent to ask what the Kremlin wants to do with its powers over the remainder of the state property it plans to privatize before March 2004 – the date when, to make the historical comparison, you might say President Vladimir Putin’s regency ends, and his kingship begins; it is also the date by which, you might add, the bastards conceived during President Yeltsin’s rule must entrench the codicil Yeltsin forced Putin to accept, or risk losing everything.

There are almost 10,000 state-owned enterprises in Russia, and the federal government owns stakes in another 4,354, according to figures released by the State Property Ministry. Although to be legal, privatization must be submitted and authorized by parliament, the government may reorganize state enterprises into shareholding companies – the first and main step towards privatization – by decree.

Reorganizing the biggest fuel and energy producers in the economy – Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems (UES) – has already begun, and enactment of legislative approval of the UES plan could be in the bag before 2004. Coal and oil, the other main sources of energy, are almost entirely disposed of already. Unless Putin is very careful, or the Duma is aroused to its first effective revolt since 1998, the regency will end with the transfer of virtually all the power sources of Russia to the bastards.

The so-called consolidation of regional telecommunications, and resale of Svyazinvest, should give them that power also, at the regent’s expense. Finally, as the revenues of the state treasury depend on the cash flow from exports, the bastards who are now consolidating their control over metals, paper and pulp, and diamonds should be in a position to dictate the state’s fiscal policy in no time at all.

“Companies that have strong potential for competition must be privatized,” is the policy of the government, according to a recent statement by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

To understand what that means, all you have to do is to gauge how much power Kasyanov has vested in Ilya Yuzhanov. Ilya who? He is the minister in charge of anti¬trust policy. If Yuzhanov is a figurehead, and his ministry paraplegic, then the policy of privatization lacks the only means to achieve its erstwhile goal. The bastards win all.

A modest example of how the four largest Russian steelmakers applied to the government recently to solve their winter supply problem will illustrate what is happening. To cut the price and assure ample supplies of steel scrap, which they need for smelting, the steelmakers recently tried to disrupt export sales of scrap by seeking a state ban on shipments out of the Volga River ports. To choke off lower-priced steel from smaller, competing plants, the Big Four also asked Kasyanov to impose high emission fees the smaller plants could not afford; and to tighten the bankruptcy laws so as to prevent them from trading while insolvent.

For the time being, the Big Four steelmakers haven’t achieved exactly what they want, although they briefly convinced international scrap traders that Rostov port was closed. If the Big Four had won, it might have been impossible to discover the game that had been played, let alone reverse the outcome. That’s the problem of power in regencies and weak states – once legitimacy has been lost, there’s no telling what the bastards will get away with. The rest is history, an exercise usually written by winners.

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