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Russia: Chubais Views Economic Future Optimistically

  • Andrew Tully

Anatoly Chubais -- the Russian energy magnate and political figure -- believes his country's revolution took place during the past 10 years. He says this was a time when Russia took the important step toward a market economy and democracy. He says these new institutions are not yet working efficiently, but he also believes they will never be reversed. Our correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 23 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Anatoly Chubais -- the chairman of the Unified Energy System (UES), Russia's electric utility -- says he is optimistic about his nation's economic future.

The business magnate says his major concerns are with the direction of Russian politics.

Chubais gave these assessments on 22 May during an appearance in Washington co-sponsored by two policy analysis institutions: the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The UES chairman said he believes the changes in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union are irreversible. He said no one today says openly that private property should be nationalized, or that free elections should be ended, or that the Russian Constitution should be revoked, or that free speech is a bad thing. This is because these institutions -- these values -- have become an integral part of Russian life, according to Chubais.

"I do believe that this decade -- this 10 years of the Russian history -- was the real revolution, with the fundamental changes of the most important social [and] political institutions and values, and I believe that what is achieved in this 10 years' time is really [a] fantastical achievement."

Chubais was quick to add that few if any of the country's new institutions and values are working efficiently. Primarily, he said, corruption undermines the rights of people who invest in business enterprises, and private property is not protected. And politically, he said, democracy and free speech are "under pressure."

But he said the very establishment of these institutions and values gives them the potential to become more efficient or even less efficient. But he emphasized that they probably will never be canceled outright.

He attributed these changes to the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. He said Yeltsin's hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin, may not have the same enthusiasm for change, but he doubts that even the current president can or even would try to undo a decade of reform.

"I believe that this current situation in Russia [the Putin presidency] is something new comparing [compared] with the Yeltsin time, and that Putin is not Yeltsin, but at the same time I don't believe that there is a real chance for anybody, including Putin, to put the Russian history back."

The UES chairman cited his own company as evidence that Russia is irreversibly on the road to true capitalism. He said that in first years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, much business was conducted by barter -- or, too often, businesses were not paid at all for their goods or services. Now, he said, cash payment is increasingly becoming the norm. And he said UES has accepted no barter since the end of last year.

According to Chubais, this means that the Russian economy is becoming more "civilized."

Chubais said his main concerns about Russia's near future involve politics. He addressed this issue both as a political figure and as a businessman.

"My major concern is the human rights, the democracy, the freedom of speech because there is no market -- there is no market without freedom."

Chubais said he supports Putin's initiatives on reforming Russia's tax and pension systems, on legal reform, and on modernizing the country's military. But the only specific concern he cited was Russia's decision to restore the Stalinist-era national anthem. Several members of the audience asked for more details of his concerns, but his answers were general and sometimes vague.

Chubais was in the U.S. to meet with investors in the UES and to learn about America's experience with deregulating some electrical utilities, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. He also met on 22 May with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who is President George W. Bush's leading expert on energy issues. Cheney's office did not immediately disclose details of the meeting.