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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deripaska Pays Putin a Visit in Sochi

Itar-TassPutin's meeting with Deripaska on Thursday raised speculation about the metal magnate's political ambitions.
President Vladimir Putin hosted tycoon Oleg Deripaska at his Sochi residence on Thursday, raising speculation about why the highly-publicized meeting occurred.

The one-on-one meeting was broadcast on state television, a departure from the Kremlin's policy of keeping Putin at an equal distance from oligarchs. Later, the president's web site published a detailed transcript of the meeting, in which Deripaska provided Putin with a full accounting of his business activities. Normally, only the opening minutes of Putin's meetings are made public.

Deripaska, a partner of billionaire Roman Abramovich and Russia's fourth-richest man on the Forbes list, has long been seen as a Putin loyalist.

After the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the destruction of his Yukos oil empire, most oligarchs have reined back major investments. Deripaska, however, has been actively -- and aggressively -- expanding his holdings.

The meeting highlighted Deripaska's growing influence, feeding speculation that he is climbing the political ladder to the Kremlin.

At the meeting, Putin appeared to approve of Deripaska's dealings.

Deripaska's Basic Element will invest about $4.5 billion into aluminum and paper plants in the Krasnoyarsk region, Deripaska said.

"That sounds extremely respectable," Putin replied, according to the transcript.

Deripaska has gone on a shopping spree in recent months, whereas other oligarchs appear to be taking a more conservative tack.

Earlier this month, Basic Element paid an undisclosed amount for a major Moscow construction firm. In June, Basic Element received approval from the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to buy an 80 percent stake in Vladimir Potanin's turbine-maker Siloviye Mashiny, or Power Machines, beating a rival bid from Germany's Siemens.

Deripaska has also been spreading his cash in the Krasnodar region, where he was brought up.

Deripaska told Putin that Basic Element intended to invest $70 million in its recently acquired farming complex in Ust Lobinskoye. The tycoon also owns two airports in the region and the prestigious Voskhod stud farm.

Deripaska may be making the region a springboard for a presidential bid, said Stanislav Belkovsky, the head of the Council of National Strategy.

"He has immense political ambitions," he said. "His inner circle has been preparing him to become president of Russia."

Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov, a Deripaska ally, has been seen as a possible candidate to succeed Putin in 2008.

Belkovsky said Deripaska's plan foresees Tkachyov becoming president and appointing the magnate as prime minister, a position he could use as a springboard to the presidency. In the meantime, Deripaska is aiming for his first political post as a Federation Council senator from the Krasnodar region, Belkovsky said.

A source close to Basic Element denied that Deripaska had any such plans.

"Belkovsky is not the first to raise these rumors. But this is just a rumor," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

"Deripaska has never had any political plans and has never been involved in anything apart from the economy."

Boris Kagarlitsky, who heads the Institute of Globalization Studies, said the high-profile meeting between Putin and Deripaska was meant to send a signal to businessmen. "This was a sign to show the president is in good relations with loyal businessmen," he said.