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Why Jailed U.S. Investor Calvey Is the Least of Putin’s Concerns

Calvey, the founder and CEO of private equity firm Baring Vostok, was practically the main participant of the forum, despite sitting this one out due to being under house arrest. He was discussed by Sberbank CEO German Gref and former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, by current Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin, by Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, and by Putin himself. And during the forum, Calvey was joined as a cause célèbre by the journalist Golunov.

There are three clear positions on the Calvey case. The first is pro-liberal and non-state, and believes that the U.S. investor’s arrest was a powerful blow to Russia’s investment climate. This is the position expressed by business ombudsman Boris Titov and the in-system liberals Kudrin and Gref, and is the position favored by the business and investment community.

The second position is more formal and is represented by state functionaries. Siluanov is clearly weary of the responsibility attributed to him as a representative of power, so has called for less focus on Calvey’s case while emphasizing that there really are “questions” concerning the bank’s activities. Neither Siluanov nor his fellow minister Oreshkin are in a hurry to stand up for Calvey, though they abstractly acknowledge the existence of a “systemic problem” of prosecuting businessmen. It seems that the case against Oreshkin’s predecessor, Alexei Ulyukaev—currently serving an eight-year term for graft in a case instigated by none other than Sechin—has been an effective cautionary tale: publically opposing the siloviki is not now the done thing.

The third position was formulated by Prosecutor General Chaika, who attempted to defend the actions of the siloviki against accusations that they had intervened to help one side in a corporate conflict, saying there were “enough grounds and reasons” to open a criminal case into Calvey.

As for Putin, only one thing was clear from his first detailed public comments on the case: the president himself doesn’t really know to what extent Baring Vostok is guilty of anything, and so prefers to leave it to the supposed professionals.

In this context, the Calvey case looks like a regrettable yet insignificant episode on the periphery of the global war for markets and spheres of influence, in which Putin, as head of a state under attack, is dealing with a completely different scale of tasks. Against the backdrop of these global challenges, the arrests of businessmen and representatives of independent media get a little lost, along with despairing officials who barely believe in the possibility of economic growth in a country that is at war.

 

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