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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Monologue Dressed Up As Dialogue

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All one has to do is look back three weeks to the RSPP's reaction to Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest to see how big business since then has been cowed.

On Oct. 25, the day of the arrest, the RSPP demanded that Putin clarify his position immediately. "The business community's trust in the authorities is ruined, and the dialogue [between business and the Kremlin] has de facto collapsed," the RSPP said.

The threat to Putin, the RSPP implied, was that big business would stop investing in Russia. Anatoly Chubais warned that the conflict could cause business to unite against the president.

But Putin never blinked. He refused to discuss Khodorkovsky's arrest with the RSPP, saying there would be "no meetings or bargaining" over the prosecutors' actions.

In the following weeks, Putin issued repeated reassurances, most often in meetings with Westerners, that the legal assault on Khodorkovsky was not part of a wider campaign to revisit the results of privatization.

The Westerners -- whether the bankers he called into the Kremlin, the Italian prime minister or the head of the IMF -- have seemed satisfied.

But while Putin was trying to restore calm, his prosecutors were telling business leaders where they really stand. Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov warned that "those who are not yet jailed" have to be careful, and called the Yukos case just "one part of a chain" of similar cases.

By the time the RSPP leaders finally got their meeting with Putin, they had surrendered. On Friday, they distanced themselves from Khodorkovsky and did not even mention his name in the president's presence.

After the meeting, Vladimir Potanin said he "was not worried" that the Yukos affair was not raised. Viktor Vekselberg said Khodorkovsky's problem was his "personal problem," and Oleg Deripaska said he just could not understand what Khodorkovsky was fighting for.

Within the RSPP, only Chubais, who did not show, remains an independent figure willing to challenge the president.

In Oleg Kiselyov's words, the oligarchs decided they had to cooperate with the state or cease to exist. For Putin, cooperating with the state seems to mean serving the state.

If under Boris Yeltsin we had businessmen running the state, under Putin the state wants to run the businessmen.

However, if Putin is serious about doubling GDP in a decade and overcoming poverty, he would do well to enter into a frank and open discussion with business, rather than continuing with the de facto monologue that currently masquerades as dialogue between the Kremlin and business.