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Alexander Lebedev’s Strategy for Crisis Management in the Russian Federation
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By Marina Grushin Washington, DC, 03/24/09 As the financial crisis wreaks havoc on economies around the world, one of Russia’s most prominent businessmen spoke out on his vision for crisis management in Moscow and beyond. Last Friday, Alexander Lebedev addressed an intimate audience of journalists, scholars, and Russia specialists at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. Lebedev has made a name for himself a renaissance man through his involvement in business, politics and the media. As chairman of the National Reserve Corporation, Lebedev holds investments ranging from a 28% stake in Aeroflot to a potato farm aimed at demonstrating Russia’s agricultural viability. His seminar followed a day-long conference at the Kennan Institute marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Russian constitution. Lebedev began with an overview of Russia’s current financial state, insisting that the crisis publicized in today’s media is not something new. With over ninety percent of the Russian population having very poor purchasing power, he explained, the public has long been deprived of affordable housing, healthcare, and education. Lebedev placed particular emphasis on the first of these three, labeling subsidized housing as the “cornerstone” of any crisis management plan. The tycoon has taken initiatives in this arena himself, working through the National Housing Corporation to construct affordable homes in Russia. Lebedev claimed that the cost of directly subsidizing housing would not be as great as many believe, and he urged the Russian government to direct its funds toward support for the general public. Lebedev severely criticized the Kremlin’s bailout of state-owned companies and oligarchs such as metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, who received $4.5 billion from the Russian government last October. In Lebedev’s view, the Kremlin’s unconditional support for state-owned companies and banks stifled the potential of small and medium-sized businesses. Furthermore, Lebedev questioned where the government’s money truly went. If Russian oligarchs are “Bernie Madoffs,” he quipped, they should be treated as such. The tycoon’s solutions to Russia’s problems centered on establishing accountability within businesses and the government. In addition, he explained that Russia needed to join the WTO and undergo a new wave of modernization. Peppering his discussion with anecdotes of regulation and red tape, Lebedev lamented his country’s “non-operational” system. He described Russia’s bureaucracy and outdated infrastructure as serious impediments to real progress. Nevertheless, the billionaire seemed optimistic that Russia would face important challenges like corruption, human rights, and media freedoms. Lebedev expressed his hope that a Gulag memorial would soon be built in Moscow, and revealed that President Dimitri Medvedev recently made a tentative promise of land for the monument. He also discussed his plans to run for mayor of Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Lebedev lost the 2003 mayoral election in Moscow to incumbent Yuri Luzhkov. This time, he will compete against Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov as well as Andrei Lugovoi, top suspect for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The race may very well solidify Lebedev’s role as Russia’s most versatile and socially conscious oligarch. For more information on the Kennan Institute, please visit www.wilsoncenter.org.

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