Lebedev Slams Putin's Anti-Crisis Strategy

Alexander Lebedev, the Russian millionaire who bought London's Evening Standard newspaper last week, said on Thursday that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's strategy for economic recovery is based on cronyism and is fueling corruption.

"We have two Putins," Lebedev said. "There are lots of words, but the system doesn't work."

Russia's economy remains addicted to exports of raw materials, while bailout loans are failing to reach the real economy, including Lebedev's agriculture, airline and building companies, he said. Putin's government has approved more than $200 billion in emergency measures, including $50 billion to help companies repay foreign debt.

"You give a kickback of 10 percent, and you get a loan from the state," Lebedev said. "It's easy."

Lebedev, who made his fortune in banking, was ranked Russia's 39th richest man last year, with a fortune of $3.1 billion. He said he joined the rush of investors who have applied for a combined $90 billion of refinancing loans from VEB "as a matter of principle, to see if all of us are equal here."

VEB's rejection of Lebedev's application for $100 million, the minimum available, for his National Reserve Corp. shows that Putin's critics are discriminated against.

Nobody in VEB's press service could be reached immediately for comment.

VEB chief Vladimir Dmitriyev was with Putin at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. Putin heads VEB's supervisory board.

"Appropriate measures are undertaken by the Russian government, Central Bank and Finance Ministry to sort out those bad assets and to introduce a very efficient system to handle" the crisis, Dmitriyev said Wednesday.

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said in Davos that owners of Russian enterprises should not expect the government to come to their rescue and should "use their own resources" for debt repayment.

"They've been helping out people like Deripaska, and that's exactly what Putin was opposing a few years ago," Lebedev said Thursday. "He said every oligarch has to be equally distanced from the state."

Oleg Deripaska's United Company RusAl, the world's biggest aluminum producer, has received $4.5 billion of the $11 billion that VEB has so far dispensed for refinancing foreign debt. The loan is backed by a 25 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel.

Managers at state companies and banks do not know how to work in crisis conditions after a decade of economic growth, Lebedev said. Rampant corruption has led to "hundreds of billions" of dollars in state funds being "wasted and pocketed," while the government has built few new roads, hospitals or schools.

"It's the right time to start looking into the state sector, instead of saying this is the most reliable and trustworthy institution in this country," Lebedev said.