Post card from Russia
This is one in a series of post cards from Reuters reporters across Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Who rules the world’s biggest energy producer? That’s the question that is bugging many people in Russia as the country’s two leaders – PM Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev — try to cope with the worst economic crisis since the 1998 domestic debt default.
Many believe Putin, a former KGB spy, is still the boss despite handing over power to Medvedev last year. But boss of what? The economy forecast to contract this year and Moscow is facing tumbling budget revenues as the income from oil, gas and metals exports dries up.
The Kremlin says it is concentrating on avoiding social tensions but the country’s richest men – the oligarchs – also say they need state bailouts. Russia’s richest man has been forced to open restructuring talks with Western creditors and more are likely to follow.
Russian debt and equity markets have rallied this year as bottom feeders snap up what they say are bargains of the decade. Sovereign yield spreads have narrowed. But friends in major companies report tumbling demand across the board – from shampoo to cars. The banking system has stopped giving out credit, job losses are soaring and the property market is paralysed with fear.
The smartest people in Moscow expect this to be a deep, long Russian crisis that will send prices down far further. The question is how the ruling duo of Putin and Medvedev handle the crisis; or rather, what happens if they fail to.
(Communists line up at Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum to pay their respects to the Soviet state founder on his birthday in the Red Square in Moscow April 22, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov (RUSSIA POLITICS))