Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2004

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The Guardian

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Vladimir Potanin

No love lost on Russia's rich

by Terry Macalister
in Moscow

ONE of Russia's most powerful oligarchs -- linked recently with the possible purchase of Manchester City and previously Arsenal football club -- yesterday expressed his frustration at being "unloved" in his home country.

Talking in a swish leather and glass bar at the top of Interros headquarters in Moscow, Vladimir Potanin (above), said politicians were allowing the public to believe that the economic and social problems of Russia were being caused by oligarchs stealing the country's wealth.

"Trust in rich and successful persons is very low. It's one of the problems," said the billionaire businessman whose Interros group owns everything from aluminium plants to newspapers.

Asked whether he felt besieged by the negative atmosphere, the former deputy prime minister replied: "To a certain extent it is right."

KhodorkovskyHe admitted that he and others such as the jailed former head of Yukos oil group, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, right, on trial for fraud, had brought some of the problems on themselves.

The 42-year-old Mr Potanin insisted he had come by his incredible wealth quite fairly but had found it difficult to explain publicly how it had been achieved in a country where the average citizen earns about £40 a week.

"We could not say how it happened -- how we became so rich. Maybe it's our fault [we are not popular]," he admitted.

Roman AbramovichSome of his colleagues such as Roman Abramovich had taken much of their wealth abroad by buying Chelsea football club and other foreign assets. Mr Potanin insisted he would not be following suit despite continual reports linking him with British soccer.

Mr Potanin said the move to buy Arsenal some years back was just an "idea" that was not acted on and despite talk about Manchester City in recent weeks he insisted there was nothing in the pipeline.

Rather than flee to Britain or elsewhere he would stick it out in Russia. "I must understand why people don't like me. People live in difficult conditions -- I should not blame people for this lack of love for me," he went on.

The Interros boss said he got support from students and younger people who wanted to get on with their own lives in a successful way rather than dwelling on setbacks and looking for scapegoats.

The oligarch said the atmosphere made it impossible for people like himself to be active politicians. In the past he had been involved in government, but now he believed the public thought that businessmen only took power to make themselves richer.

Mr Potanin was scathing about the climate for doing business in Russia saying small and medium-sized companies in particular were hampered by red tape. Interros had managed to push through a number of important projects with the support of the country's president, Vladimir Putin, but other smaller ones were stalled by administrative delays and bureaucracy. "No one wants us to do anything," he argued.

He shrugged off criticism from the World Bank about corporate governance at Interros saying companies operated in whatever way they could in a difficult environment. Interros said it was also in discussions with UK private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, about joint venture activities but declined to give details.


 ... on the, ahem, oligarchs
Website dossier on the origins of anti-Semitism
Our dossier on the life and troubled times of the Russian "oligarchs"
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