June 28th, 2010

What kind of capitalism?


Russian natural resource minister Yuri Trutnev annoucned that TNK-BP’s licence to develop the Kovykta gas field will be handed over to the state, where Gazprom has a natural gas monopoly. Although TNK-BP was in discussions to sell Kovykta to Gazprom for $1 billion, the transaction was never comnpleted and it appears TNK-BP will walk away from Kovykta with nothing.

Details of TNK-BP’s travails are covered in a previous post, but it’s worth rementioning that in 2007 the Kremlin passed a law restricting all gas exports to public entities, yes, Gazprom. Although the recent Reuters article touches upon weakening demand for natural gas, it neglected to mention that Kovykta is located in the eastern Russia and TNK-BP was developing those fields for natural gas export to energy hungry China. According to China’s official news agency Xinhua, China’s natural gas consumption is forecasted to more than double over the next ten years.

President Medvedev’s visit to California’s Silicon Valley last week focused on Russia’s ambition to make Skolkovo into Innovation City. But as a Moscow Times op-ed mentions, the President and the government must restore trust in government procedures and laws of the land. Only through the re-establishment of trust can Russia foster the kind of environment entrepreneurs, engineers and venture capitalists need to create and execute new ideas and projects. As an indication of his commitment, Medvedev signed along with other G20 leaders their commitment to combatting corruption and protecting whistle blowers by creating a committee that will eventually draft rules for all G20 members.

While the Skolkovo project renews debate over the successful path of Russia as a state capitalist country versus democratic capitalist nations, financial commentators have renewed interest in Friedrich Hayek, Nobel Prize winning economist. Counter to John Maynard Keyes who wrote about the importance of governmental intervention, Hayek warned against government intervention as it would lead to serfdom. Having experienced serfdom for centuries prior to 1861, Russia is at a political and economic crossroad. Will Medvedev’s commitment to innovation, rule of law and transparency extend to the coming presidential election in 2012, or will a perceived tainted election redirect Russia’s political and economic path towards greater government control and, serfdom?

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