NEWSMAKER-Putin’s right-hand man exits Kremlin shadows

By Michael Stott and Guy Faulconbridge

ST PETERSBURG, Russia, June 20 (BestGrowthStock) – Igor Sechin’s
soft tones and courteous manner belie his fearsome reputation.

Ambassadors and officials regard Sechin, a former Soviet
military interpreter, as the informal leader of the “siloviki”
clan of nationalist, ex-military and security service officers
fighting to maintain a big state role in the Russian economy.

Gatekeeper for Vladimir Putin during his 2000-2008
presidency, Sechin is now a deputy prime minister overseeing
Russia’s vast energy and metals sectors, the world’s biggest.

Oligarchs snap to attention in his presence and Forbes
magazine ranks Sechin among the world’s top 50 most powerful
people, one notch above Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev, widely
regarded as junior to Putin.

The role has brought unaccustomed public attention to a man
more comfortable with life in the shadows and Sechin, 49, used a
rare interview with Reuters during the St Petersburg Economic
Forum to try to soften his intimidating reputation.

“This seems to me to be something from the realm of legends
and myth,” he said when asked during the 90-minute conversation
whether he was indeed the leader of the Kremlin “siloviki”.
“It’s not serious, just not serious to hang a label on someone.”

So how would Sechin like to be described?

“A normal citizen should be a patriot of his country,” the
deputy premier replied. “A decent person, professional if you
work in the government and effective, that’s all.”

Many U.S. senators and congressmen have a military
background, he adds, and they are never described as “siloviki”.

Sechin bristles at the notion that his background, political
alliances and duties running Russia’s oil and gas industry put
him at odds with Medvedev’s vision of Russia as a modern,
democratic, pro-Western knowledge economy.

“The president is talking about the risks (of an oil-based
economy), he is not saying we should move away from using
natural resources — that is already a given which is the
foundation of the Russian economy,” Sechin explained.

Medvedev, he goes on, is right to want to reduce the role of
the state in the economy “but we need to sell the share
efficiently”. He cites the IPO of the state oil giant he chairs,
Rosneft, as an example of how to do this.

LUCRATIVE ASSETS

Although it was “bad” that oligarchs got their hands on
highly lucrative natural resource assets for almost nothing
during Russia’s chaotic sell-offs in the 1990s, Sechin said:

“What has happened has happened. Privatisation took place.
We do not intend to revise privatisations but we hope…that
these assets will be used effectively.”

Sechin has been especially active recently in Latin America,
travelling to Venezuela to help negotiate arms sales and oil
industry partnerships and rebuilding Moscow’s Soviet-era trade
and finance links with Cuba.

How do his deals with Washington’s main foes in Latin
America fit with Medvedev’s policy of showing a friendly face to
the West and boosting relations with Washington?

“It’s nothing personal,” Sechin replies smoothly. He says
that socialist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is a “natural
partner” for Russia because the two nations have common
interests.

As for $4 billion of arms sales to Venezuela, “all countries
with high industrial production potential do this” and if Moscow
does not supply Caracas with weapons, then someone else will.
“Why do we need to refuse?”

A long-term Kremlin insider, Sechin is especially cautious
when pressed on Russia’s 2012 presidential election.

Many insiders expect Putin, now prime minister, to return to
the presidency — but they do not rule out a continuation of the
current “tandem” structure with Medvedev in the Kremlin and
Putin running the country as premier.

Could Sechin be a third candidate?

“I have never heard a more interesting question,” he
comments caustically. “At least not from the realms of fairy
tales and fantasy.”

The question proves so sensitive that his spokesman calls
back hours later asking to suggest another response on a
possible Sechin presidential candidature: “This is not possible
for objective and subjective reasons.”

The deputy premier, who began his association with Putin
when the two men worked together in the St Petersburg town hall
in the 1990s, said he was surprised to have been invited to work
in Moscow’s corridors of power on Red Square.

“I somehow unexpectedly ended up in the Kremlin,” he said.
“There is a special feeling there that this place is holy and
deeply significant. There is a very good aura there.”

Investing Tools
(For a related story from the interview with Sechin’s comments
on the energy industry please click on [ID:nLDE65I04B])
(Editing by Robert Woodward)

NEWSMAKER-Putin’s right-hand man exits Kremlin shadows