Today's Blogs

Putin the Plutocrat

Bloggers speculate about Vladimir Putin’s  rumored $40 billion dollar net worth. Also, could John McCain actually be the GOP nominee?

Putin the plutocrat: Russian President Vladimir Putin might be worth as much as $40 billion, the Guardian reports. According to Stanislav Belkovsky, a Russian political scientist, Putin “effectively” controls more than a third of the shares of Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company; a healthy sliver of Gazprom, the state-controlled gas company; and three-fourths of Gunvor, a Swiss oil trading firm that was founded by one of Putin’s friends. If true, this portfolio would make Time’s “Person of the Year” the richest man in all of Europe and Russia. But some doubt the provenance of these allegations, saying they represent an attempt by high-ranking Kremlin officials, who consolidate themselves into “clans,” to undercut each other.

Robert Amsterdam, one of the defense attorneys for jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, sees the Guardian piece as a sign of the fierce divisions inside the Kremlin: “I continue to stress to that the real campaign in Russia is not one of a candidate before the voting public, but rather is one amongst the clans. …  A front page story like this leaked to the Western press, exactly around the time of the selection of Dmitri Medvedev, does not happen by accident. It is a clear personal attack on the impunity of the president, and whoever has fired this shot at the top, is fighting desperately for their political and physical survival.”

Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporter Steve LeVine—his beat was the Caucasus and Central Asia—interviewed Belkovsky last August: “He said this wasn’t provable at the moment, but that the signal of veracity would be if that 37% [of Surgutneftegas] went on the market before March, when Putin steps down as president. Belkovsky was sure that, given the non-transparent aspect of most Russian companies, the shares would be snapped up by another big Russian company such as Gazprom or Rosneft.”

Responding to an earlier report of Putin’s billions, Commentary’s contentions blogger Gordon Chang surmised, “Do we care that Vlad may have become a one-man energy empire? For starters, if you are a Russian citizen, he has essentially stolen from you (if the allegations are true). Yet the rest of us are also affected by grand thievery on this scale. Putin knows that, like Marcos of the Philippines or Mobutu of Zaire, ill-gotten wealth can be taken from him once he no longer exercises power. So he will, in all likelihood, continue in the Kremlin, and this means Russia will maintain its increasingly hostile policies toward the West.”

Dragongeldat Procrustean shares a little folk wisdom about Putin’s plutocratic dilemma: “My cousin once managed a call center in Texas for a rather unscrupulous owner. Every month they paid their phone bill to AT&T a little bit later. Eventually they were so far behind, AT&T had to grant all kinds of concessions to keep them a customer. ‘If you owe Ma Bell $100, they own you,’ the owner told my cousin, ‘but if you owe $10,000, you own them.’  So, Mr Putin, when you have $100 in your pocket, it’s yours to spend on accessories, but when you have $40 billion, you are the accessory to it. Enjoy your treasure, O Smaug the Invincible, and may the fires burn in your belly.”

Read more about Putin’s billions.

Iron John: John McCain is back. All but written off this summer, the Arizona Senator is now second in the New Hampshire polls, and may well take that state in the primary, as he did in 2000. Has he got enough juice to win the nomination, though? Bloggers are torn.

Right Smart says: “The good news – If Romney loses in Iowa by more than 5 points and/or his gaffes, flip-flops, and negative ads backfire, he will lose to McCain in N.H. regardless of the independent turnout. After N.H. it could be a three-way fight between Huckabee, Romney, and McCain. I’ll predict it goes Huckabee, McCain, and Romney - in that order.”

Taniel at Campaign Diaries thinks “Iowa might be a huge reach for him, but New Hampshire is not. And you can imagine that the media will go crazy if McCain pulls even a strong third in Iowa. … And it goes without saying that however much Romney could possibly accomodate himself from being second in Iowa, he cannot possibly go on in the race if he comes third.”

The Weekly Standard’s Richelieu at Campaign Standard offers “another way for McCain to win. McCain finishes fourth in Iowa, but still ahead of the rapidly fading Rudy Giuliani. McCain will still get a small bounce out of that, and he’s been climbing steadily over the last four weeks in New Hampshire. Rudy’s decline - rumors abound that the Giuliani machine has run out of money - is a godsend to McCain in New Hampshire. Perhaps McCain can upset Romney and Huckabee there and start surging into Michigan and South Carolina.”

But as to Richelieu’s prediction that Giuliani might drop out and endorse McCain, Jason Zengerleat the New Republi’s Plank doesn’t see it happening: “When I was up in New Hampshire with McCain a couple weeks ago, Rudy’s name came up a few times while McCain was holding court for reporters in the back of his bus–and his words weren’t very charitable. While McCain seemed to take every opportunity he could to say something nice about Huckabee and seemed at pains to hold his tongue when it came to Romney (lest he say something really, really mean), he had no qualms about taking some shots at Rudy.”

Read more about resurgent McCain.