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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

INSIDE RUSSIA: Sad Synonyms Of Betrayal And Business




Siberian Aluminum gave its chief a gift Monday. On the eve of the anniversary of the founding of Sayansk Aluminum Plant the registration was announced of Russian Aluminum, which will comprise more than 70 percent of the Russian aluminum industry, with equal shares held by Roman Abramovich's representatives and Siberian Aluminum, with Oleg Deripaska as its head.


It's no secret that the main reason for the consolidation was the two sides' desire to resolve the problems of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, or KrAZ, a plant Deripaska drove into a corner with high tariffs on electricity and lawsuits presented to KrAZ by Deripaska's colleague Anatoly Chubais.


From Krasnoyarsk, where I spent the last week, the prospects for KrAZ and for the consolidation don't look cheery. On Sunday, during a hunt organized by local oligarchs, I asked the Krasnoyarskenergo chief whether tariffs for KrAZ would be lowered. And what would energy officials do if KrAZ didn't pay this week according to the new tariffs, 50 percent higher as of April 1? The answer was categorical: "KrAZ will be cut off from the network, just as the Achinsk Alumina Plant was last week." A bureaucrat in the regional administration piped up: "We'll support the energy officials."


The reason for this lack of compromise by the energy officials is simple: When Deripaska was hunting KrAZ, his biggest weapon was Chubais. When Deripaska got together with Abramovich, he in fact turned on Chubais. For a week, Chubais didn't speak to Deripaska; now he's talking, but apparently in the language of ultimatums.


It appears that Siberian Aluminum didn't expect such a harsh reaction. One small example: When a group of Siberian managers landed in the Krasnoyarsk airport recently, it looked like a special forces attack on a roadside cafe. All of the KrAZ higher-ups - from general director Alexei Barantsev on down to his deputies - were sent on vacation, from which it was assumed they weren't meant to return. Siberian personnel took over their positions.


A week later, I met with acting general director Viktor Geintse (first deputy director of Siberian). Barantsev's office was sealed shut; Geintse was sitting in the office of his first deputy. In an apologetic voice, Geintse suggested we go into the lounge: "I smoke a lot," timidly explained the man who two months ago seized the Novokuznetsky Aluminum Plant for Siberian and behaved there like Caesar in Gaul. "And Alexei Grigoryevich [Barantsev] has declared war on smoking. So I do my smoking in the lounge." Then Geintse announced that after Barantsev's vacation, he would return to the plant.


That's not how omnipotent invaders act; that's how people act who have unexpected problems and try to win all the allies they can. The contrast between Siberian's tough behavior at Novokuznetsk and its cautious actions at Krasnoyarsk is striking. But we should remember that Russian Aluminum wasn't created for mutual playing in the aluminum market or coordinating price policy; it was created to minimize expenditures.


And if a new war starts brewing with the energy officials, the sides will once again betray each other, and journalists' questions will be answered with a surprised: "What betrayal? That's business." And they'll be right, because betrayal and business are synonyms in Russia.


Yulia Latynina writes for Segodnya.