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Boyar Capitalism

A Wall Street Journal editorial from Saturday argues that the departure of TNK-BP’s CEO Robert Dudley reflects poorly upon Russia as a reliable business environment. Duh. Although filled with mostly tedious foregone conclusions, there is one killer line.

Mr. Putin coined the phrase, “dictatorship of the law,” and in the early days many investors endorsed his authoritarian policies as a path to stability. It turns out that something other than mere “stability” is emerging in Russia. Local tax authorities and health inspectors are a power unto themselves, extorting large businesses (as in BP’s case, directed from above) or free-lancing on their own against the medium and small. Their victims are mostly Russians, who won’t be able as easily to conclude their property isn’t safe and pack up and take their businesses, and jobs, elsewhere. No matter how much money there is to be made in Russia these days, it ultimately doesn’t count for much the day a boyar or simple chinovnik decides to take it away.