Хоффман написал очень хорошую книгу "The Oligarchs" (кстати, с помощью одного ЖЖ-юзера). В этой книге очень реалистично описана и природа НТТМов, и история с залоговыми аукционами - в том числе со слов самих их участников. Так что его мнение представляет особый интерес.
Russia's Bad Case of Arrested Development
By David E. Hoffman
Sunday, November 2, 2003; Page B02
In today's Moscow, a boom town of new apartment towers and bustling restaurants, Ikea mega stores and lavish boutiques, the tale of the private tram seems a distant memory. The writer Andrei Sinyavsky chronicled how in Soviet times, when the state sought to crush the spirit of private entrepreneurship, some workers at the Moscow tram depot struck out on their own. At some risk, they revived an old discarded tram. They put it back on the tracks and started steering it about Moscow, collecting fares, until they were caught and jailed.
"Outwardly, it looked like any other state tram," recalled Sinyavsky, "but inside the driver and conductor were working not for the state, and the passengers' kopeks were not going to the state treasury. This was a private enterprise inside socialist city transport."
Russia has traveled an enormous distance since the days when entrepreneurship was criminal. But last week's arrest of Russia's leading tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, shows that the country's transition from dying socialism to functioning market capitalism remains incomplete.
In the first decade of its great leap to capitalism, Russia freed up prices and trade while rapidly privatizing a huge swath of the state's most valuable properties. This gave birth to a generation of oligarchs, as the super-rich became known. Young, fearless, clever and ruthless, they made fortunes on the back of the dying system and became icons of the new Russia's inequality.
The ultimate hope for Russia is that the wild capitalism of the last decade can evolve to something more competitive, liberal and transparent that will drive prosperity. Yet that evolution is not assured; such profound transformations can easily stall, or fail.
That is the reason to be alarmed at the Kremlin's decision to imprison Khodorkovsky, the most successful oligarch, and to impound his holdings in Russia's largest company, the oil giant Yukos. The charges of fraud and income tax evasion appear to be little more than a crude campaign to punish Khodorkovsky and his partners.
It's not as though Khodorkovsky is beyond reproach. But after earning a reputation as a corporate street fighter, he has spent the last three years trying to turn himself into a gentleman who would be welcome in boardrooms in New York and London. He adopted Western management practices, paid dividends, opened his accounts for scrutiny and became a philanthropist. He set the pace for change.
Khodorkovsky's motives were self-interested -- he was trying to drive up the market capitalization of his oil company and eventually sell his shares to a major global oil firm for what would be a fantastic sum. But at this point, Russia's interests largely coincide with his. Russia desperately needs modernization, and Khodorkovsky's story shows that it's possible to move beyond the era of Soviet communism, when entrepreneurship was criminal, and oligarchic capitalism, when markets ran wild. But that can only be done by building a state governed by the rule of law, where property rights are assured and competition reigns. A country with a thousand oligarchs is going to be more prosperous than a country ruled by a few, but it may take generations to get there. You have to grow this evolution, you can't impose it.
Khodorkovsky's career traces the arc of Russia's grand experiment and shows the evolutionary forces still at work.
Khodorkovsky's graduation in June 1986 from the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology coincided with the rise of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of perestroika. The technical schools were breeding grounds for new thinking because they taught little Marxist ideology. At the time, the first great lurch of change was getting underway with the formation of small, private cooperatives. These were often run by young people with the gumption to dabble in practices long outlawed, such as selling something for profit. Khodorkovsky's first breakthrough was to start a "youth science club," actually a small private business.
Khodorkovsky later started a bank, Menatep, and made millions by taking advantage of the weaknesses of the Soviet state. For example, the new Russian government didn't have a treasury, so it had to rely on commercial banks like Menatep to distribute money for official purposes, such as paying teachers. This business, known as "authorized banking," was lucrative -- the banks kept the state's money for a while, invested it and pocketed the proceeds. The teachers got a promise they'd be paid later, if at all. The state did nothing about it. Was this criminal? It took place in the twilight zone -- the bureaucrats were in on the deal, and Russia lacked any rule of law. Immense profits went to fleet-footed and savvy operators.
As Russia moved from experiments with private enterprise to unbridled capitalism in the mid to late 1990s, Khodorkovsky turned into a fearsome tycoon. He bought millions of the privatization vouchers that were used to break up the Soviet industrial archipelago. He assembled a small empire of factories. But Khodorkovsky didn't want to run a conglomerate. He wanted just one thing -- oil.
In 1995, the nearly broke Russian government decided to swap its crown jewels -- including the oil companies -- for loans. This scheme, known as "loans for shares," was concocted by the tycoons, and it cemented their loyalty to President Boris Yeltsin in his 1996 reelection bid. It was also one of the great rigged deals of the decade. Khodorkovsky's bank, Menatep, organized the auction of Yukos, while another of his front companies bid for it. Guess what? He won.
The tough guy wasn't finished. To solidify his hold on Yukos, Khodorkovsky out-muscled an American with shares in Yukos subsidiaries; his ruses siphoned off profits to the parent company or offshore shell firms he controlled. A deputy filed a slander complaint against a respected Russian securities regulator, who quit. Hardball worked for Khodorkovsky, but his reputation was blackened. The Russian stock exchange halted trading in Yukos shares, which became practically worthless.
Russia's rapid economic evolution wasn't over, though, and neither was Khodorkovsky's. Next, he adopted Western management practices, which helped him build up a mountain of cash as oil prices rose. The market capitalization of Yukos hit $31 billion earlier this year, making it Russia's largest company. Those who had seen Khodorkovsky's mean streak in the 1990s wondered if he had really changed, but his new ways were impossible to ignore.
Last year, Khodorkovsky disclosed the ownership structure of Yukos. That was a pioneering step, making him the first owner of a major company to break with the climate of secrecy in which Russian capitalism had been born. The disclosure showed that Khodorkovsky's own holdings in Yukos were worth about $8 billion. Khodorkovsky sought to turn Yukos into a global oil giant, preparing to merge or sell it to ExxonMobil or ChevronTexaco. He began a philanthropic foundation, Open Russia, that advocated expanded ties with the West. His donations supported, among other things, the annual National Book Festival in Washington. There, in 2002, he was photographed with President Bush and Laura Bush, embraced as the respectable face of Russian business.
Khodorkovsky's growing fortune led to prominence in Russia. He financed liberal political parties and spoke about leaving Yukos before the 2008 presidential election, telling friends he wanted to do something else. President Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB official during perestroika and disdained the oligarchs, felt threatened. Early in his term, Putin insisted that the tycoons stay out of his way, and he promised not to reexamine how they had made their fortunes. But something snapped earlier this year. In February, at a roundtable of businessmen, Khodorkovsky criticized government corruption and singled out a murky oil deal involving a state-owned company. Putin gave him a cold stare. "Yukos has excess reserves," he asked, "and how did it get them?"
While Khodorkovsky changed, many others did not. When he was arrested, most Russian business leaders kept silent. Evolution in capitalism, as in life, can be agonizingly slow. Amid arbitrary prosecutions, no one is immune. The charges against Khodorkovsky date back to the wild 1990s; other oligarchs must wonder if they are next.
Democracy and capitalism need the oxygen of competition. The way to encourage evolution in Russia and build prosperity is to create rule of law and a climate in which market capitalism can thrive. Russia is not there yet. Instead, Putin has discouraged those who compete with him, first in politics and now in the economy. He has sent out the police to arrest the driver of the private tram and bring him back to the depot. Who will dare follow Khodorkovsky now?
Author's e-mail: email@example.com
David Hoffman is foreign editor of The Post and author of "The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia" (PublicAffairs).