Russian (Gazeta.ru’s analysis here) and now Western news wires are reporting that an arrest warrant has been issued for Mikhail Gutseriyev, founder of Russian oil company Russneft. Gutseriyev resigned last month after the Interior Ministry accused him of tax evasion and other nefarious activities.
Analysts have recently commented on the Kremlin’s desire to take over Russneft – for example, Russia Profile published this article on a tug of war between two Kremlin factions over the company.
Ben Aris over at Business New Europe wrote in a BNE news flash on this issue that, among the various theories over why Gutseriyev is being pursued, some of the more likely explanations include his bid on Yukos assets during that company’s bankruptcy proceedings and the fact that Russneft’s production recently broke the 100k bpd threshold, thereby making the company ‘strategic’.
A further wrinkle to this story is that Gutseriyev’s son died in a car crash last week. It could be completely unrelated, but it sure doesn’t look good. And it is the perception issue that goes to the very heart of this and all of the other ‘bad’ news stories coming out of Russia recently. The Russian authorities apparently care how their country is viewed – modern or backward, rich or poor, etc. So, the simple question is – why are they doing this?
My own opinion is that this is all beyond Putin. He is clearly on his way out and may be losing control over different political and elite factions in and outside of the government. Perhaps some of the insiders fear being shut out in the next administration, and are trying to scoop up treasure while they can. All this points to the instability and undemocratic nature, not of Russian society, but of Russian elites. Their mindsets are stuck in the Communist and Yeltsin years. We will probably only see more of these activities leading up to the 2008 presidential election. In other words, it will get worse before it gets better (hopefully)…
UPDATE – Gutseriyev reportedly fled to London…big surprise
DOUBLE UPDATE – The Moscow Times is reporting that Gutseriyev’s lawyers are appealing the arrest warrant and that two sources ‘close to Gutseriyev’ say he fled to Baku…yeah right, if by Baku they mean London