Former Russian Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Boris Fyodorov died yesterday in London from complications of a stroke. He was 50. Probably only serious Russia watchers much remember Fyodorov, but there was a time when his name was in the news constantly. He was one of the implementers of the so-called shock therapy of the 1990s.
But I remember him best for his work in the early years of this decade when he was the minority-shareholders' representative on Gazprom's board of directors. His statements were often the only ray of light into that opaque structure that provided much of the funding for the ascent of Putinism in Russia. During the 2000-01 Gazprom takeover of the once respected and independent NTV -- which Putin and others insisted was merely a business dispute -- Fyodorov often showed up on television and in the press emphasizing what bad business it was for the natural-gas monopoly to be wasting so much time and energy on a media company. He accused Gazprom's state managers of asset stripping. Dmitry Medvedev, now president of Russia, headed Gazprom's board in 2000-01, served as deputy chairman in 2001-02, and again as chairman from 2002-08.
Gazprom claimed at the time it was only interested in NTV's debts, had no intention of running a media holding, and would sell NTV as soon as possible, but all these assertions turned out to be lies. Gazprom still owns NTV and is aggressively expanding its media empire. During the last presidential election, NTV gave more heavily biased coverage in favor of Medvedev than even the formally state-owned networks.
One clear sign of the changing times in Russia was Fyodorov's quiet disappearance from the media. Very little was heard from him in recent years. His name would come up now and again in the newsroom here after it became clear that Medvedev would be Putin's successor as president. Back then, the Kremlin was trying to paint Medvedev as a young, Westernized liberal. We wondered whether that image jibed with Fyodorov's recollections of his days on Gazprom's board. Unfortunately, those discussions never got past the "whatever-happened-to-Fyodorov?" stage, and the interview was never conducted. It's a shame -- one of the honest voices, both about the mistakes of the Yeltsin era and the venality of the early Putin era, is now silent forever.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, a long-time friend of Fyodorov's, spoke to RFE/RL's Russian Service yesterday: "He was on Gazprom's board of directors -- not as a state representative, but representing minority shareholders. And he constantly demanded that Gazprom open up its books; he demanded that this black box, into which billions of dollars disappeared only to turn up in the pockets of Putin's friends, that all these black boxes were made transparent. He fought for all of that. Later, he left Gazprom's board. I guess he understood that it was senseless to fight on."
-- Robert Coalson