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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shut Down Kremlin's Upravdelami

When liberals of all latitudes and longitudes scold Russia, it is usually over things like the Central Bank's commercial empire, or the budget's soft loans to ailing industries. The mantra at such times is: The state should get out of doing business.

And always, the 800-pound gorilla that sits unnoticed at such discussions is a sprawling mess known as the Kremlin property department. Boris Yeltsin created it with a pen stroke in 1993, handing it all property belonging to the Soviet Communist Party.

This was always a confusing idea, and it's never been clear how Yeltsin and his property lieutenant, Pavel Borodin, sorted things into Party and non-Party goody bags.

Nor has it been clear what the property department owns ? or what it does ? or even exactly how to understand its notoriously vague Russian name, Upravleniye delami prezidenta.

Now here we are in a new political era, but the new broom known as Vladimir Putin isn?t doing much sweeping. True, Borodin ? the man the Swiss intend to arrest, should he ever wander into Europe ? has been removed. Instead, he?s up in St. Petersburg, flogging a $2 billion white elephant called the Russian-Belarussian Parliamentary Center. Putin?s Kremlin has respectfully ordered a feasibility study of this asinine project.

And not surprisingly. Putin used to work for Borodin?s property department. And in a sign someone has a really wicked sense of humor, Borodin?s center is tentatively to be built on the same spot as another infamously asinine white elephant Putin used to know a fair bit about: the 30-story Peter the Great Tower. Luckily for St. Petersburg?s architectural feel, that tower never got built, as most of the funding seems to have been siphoned off to points like Alikante, Spain.

Back in Moscow, meanwhile, we have Vladimir Kozhin ? Putin?s St. Petersburg crony ? sitting on Borodin?s old throne, and talking of building hotels and running gem auction centers and suing American tobacco companies on behalf of Russian cancer victims (apparently the property department will graciously collect any legal awards on their behalf).

We can?t help thinking: Why is the property department even still here ? much less talking of expanding? The entire thing should be dismantled, sold off at open auction and the revenues generated put into the federal budget.

True, that?s not the way things ever worked in St. Petersburg. Way back then, scams like the Peter the Great Tower flourished thanks to a municipal culture of financial secrecy ? one brought in by the new brooms, Mayor Anatoly Sobchak and his deputy, Putin.