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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Riddle Here

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When citing Winston Churchill's memorable but often misquoted 1939 radio speech -- "[Russia] is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" -- commentators discussing Russia regularly omit the adjoining insight that, when seeking to predict Russia's response to any event, the key is "Russian national interest."

There is nothing mysterious about the Kremlin's robust defense of national interest. Like any other government, it is simply protecting what it deems important for the country and for its people. It surprises me that anyone questions whether Russia should rightly, proudly and fairly protect its interests. Russian businesses, especially those championing the drive to international capital markets, must naturally do the same.

RusAl commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit to conduct a study, including interviews with 300 multinational chief executives, into perceptions of Russian business. The report, "The Russians are Coming: Understanding Emerging Multinationals," makes compelling but at times alarming reading.

The emergence of new multinationals in Russia is part of a broader global phenomenon. As economic power has shifted toward emerging markets, Asian and Latin American companies were the first to break on to the global business scene. Russian companies are relative latecomers -- but their expansion, facilitated by oil liquidity, has been rapid. Russia is now the third-largest foreign investor among emerging markets.

The emergence of Russia as a global player has clearly surprised the established business world. Some chief executives interviewed for the report saw the extent of the corporate advance as a strategic move by the Kremlin to entrench Russia's geopolitical influence. Russian companies were perceived by some as having poor management practices and structures, and as using outmoded and defunct technology. Such misinformed views greatly disturb me.

Chief executives doing business in or with Russia had a more positive view: They recognized that Russia had changed and for some time now had offered first-rate opportunities for growth. Several suggested that it was vital that a broader spectrum of the international business community recognized that Russian business was primarily driven by commercial logic and competitive advantage -- not by political agendas.

The rapid pick-up in Russian investment abroad is driven by factors such as gaining critical mass to survive consolidation; gaining access to new markets, raw materials, technology transfer and management know-how; coping with excess liquidity; and the lack of expansion opportunities at home.

Russian companies enjoy significant competitive advantages over established players: emerging markets experience, a powerful but flexible corporate structure, liquidity, a highly educated staff pool and enormous ambition. These characteristics allow Russian businesses to act quickly, operate at low cost and consider acquisitions in emerging and developed markets that are too risky or problematic for other companies.

As the drive to listing and cross-border transactions continues, Russian business is adopting best practice, rising to the challenge of transparency. This commitment is far-reaching -- from operational structure and financial reporting to corporate citizenship and sustainable development. This cannot be a fast-tracked process. Changing behavior and stripping away long-standing, stereotypical perceptions of Russia will happen in years, not months. Even for nonlisted companies, there have been important changes in corporate governance and disclosure. RusAl, for example, has developed an 18-month corporate governance program, with the help of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and International Finance Corporation, appointing an independent board among other activities. There is often less criticism of Western private equity firms than of private Russian enterprises.

Russian companies are taking dramatic steps to shed a debilitating image. We are not only credible business partners, but real competitors to and, indeed, owners of some of the world's largest, most innovative companies. The combined strength of RusAl, SUAL and the alumina assets of Glencore -- making an enlarged company and the number one player in the global aluminum industry -- demonstrates that the Russians are indeed coming. With the encouragement, understanding and healthy competition of the international business community, I am confident that the enigma image can be put aside for good.

Alexander Bulygin is chief executive of RusAl. This comment appeared in the Financial Times.