Russians woke this morning to the news that the Investigative Committee [known as SledKom, in Russian] had detained the Minister of Economic Development, Alexei Ulyukaev.
A statement was released at three o’clock this morning, but it appears to have been taken down at the time I am writing this.
As usual, most of what is happening and what happened are mere conjecture and speculation based on rumors. But according to Bloomberg, the charges relate to Rosneft’s recent purchase of a controlling stake in Bashneft. Allegedly, Ulyukaev took a “$2 million bribe related to his ministry’s approval of the sale of a 50 percent stake in Bashneft…”
“Ulyukaev was caught red-handed while taking a bribe. We are talking about extortion, the dual threats against representatives of Rosneft,” a SledKom representative told Interfax.
Rosneft paid $5 billion for the stake (which was over-priced, as I pointed out at the time).
As usual, there was some hysteria among Western analysts, but Chatham House’s Ilya Zaslavskyi had a more level-headed opinion:
According to Gazeta.ru, Ulyukaev wrote a resignation letter in October, and approval was expected after budget discussions in the Duma. The reason for his resignation was due to his poor forecasts of the macroeconomic situation in Russia.
“His [Ulyukaev’s] ministry was not afraid to give tough forecasts – in particular, the Ministry of Economic Development in October suggested that in the next 20 years the country’s economy expects stagnation, GDP growth would be below average. Ulyukaev said that the country’s economy as a whole needed to adapt to the new foreign policy conditions, including sanctions.”
The first Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Central Bank, Sergei Shvetsov, told reporters:
“I have great respect for Alexei Valentinovich [Ulyukaev]. He is the last person anybody would suspect of anything like that…. What is written in the press seems absurd. Right now nothing is clear.”
Or as the President of Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs said:
What I think is happening here, however, is a little more mundane that it first appears. Yes, a Minister has been detained, and accused of corruption. But this goes back to the Sergei Ivanov interview I highlighted a few weeks ago. At the time, Ivanov said that the government would continue its anti-corruption efforts. What he meant, of course, was not that there would be an actual effort to crack down on corruption, but that they would make a show of it for the general population. And I think that is why we are seeing this drama played out in the media.