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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Do We Really Believe Putin Has No Clue?

President Vladimir Putin has said he wont intervene in the conflict between Gazprom and Media-MOST. Thats good. Citing Mikhail Gorbachev, who met with Putin as head of NTVs public council, Putin said he "had no clue" about the states interference in the deal between the two private entities, and he was outraged by the behavior of Press Minister Mikhail Lesin. Thats bad.

Should we believe this? If so, then Putin doesnt control his ministries, doesnt know what is going on in the countrys largest monopoly and has a vague understanding of how things are done in Russia.

This merely adds to other such instances when Putin happened to have "no clue." The nation should be concerned: Arent we in trouble? Do we really have a president? If the man in whom the majority has invested the right and might to govern it has no clue, who does? But the nation apparently is not eager to ask such questions. Is it because our gut tells us that all these incidences of "had no clue" are nothing but badly performed self-defense?

Let me throw out a couple of ideas.

Shortly after Putins successful presidential campaign, in which NTV was his main opponent, Alfred Kokh was appointed the new head of Gazprom-Media. Kokh, the onetime privatization minister, had never been involved in any media-related businesses. But Kokh was known as a bitter, personal enemy of Media-MOST, which in 1997 did its best (not as a media outlet, but as a competitor) to disclose some of Kokhs misdoings as a bureaucrat. Kokh was investigated but escaped a sentence on a clemency basis. Question: Why has Gazprom, with its many professional financial managers, employed Gusinskys personal rival to retrieve its debts? Guess: This wasnt Gazproms choice, but the choice of the Kremlin, which has ways to ensure that Kokh will break his back to resolve the dispute so that NTV can be controlled.

For years, Gazprom has wailed about its lack of cash to pay to the federal budget. During the same period, the monopolys financial problems have not allowed it to pay dividends to shareholders at an amount any more than, for instance, 3 kopeks per share in 1997, the year of the nations best economic performance. Still, according to independent consultants on the Gazprom/Media-MOST deal and according to Kokh himself Gazprom was prepared to pay Gusinsky much more than NTVs estimated price and to impose on Gazproms fragile shoulders the mountainous burden of all of Media-MOSTs current and future debts. Question: If this is just a commercial deal between two private businesses, why the generosity? Why was Gazprom so eager to make a deal that was so financially unprofitable for it? Guess: This has little to do with business, but lots to do with politics.

Just as Gazprom was pressed to "buy" a stake in NTV after the 1996 presidential elections (in which NTV performed a service not so much to the public as to the authorities), so Gazprom is trying to provide another favor to the Kremlin. Well-informed sources speculate that in fact Gazprom would not lose any money on the deal, but taxpayers will; the monopolys expenses would be compensated by a forgiving of some of its customs duties.

Arent these questions enough to allay your fears that Putin "had no clue?"

Yevgenia Albats is an independent journalist based in Moscow.