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Who Got The Power?

igor-sechin.jpgVladimir Putin has been ranked number 3 in the Forbes list of the most powerful people in the world, President Medvedev comes in 43rd, after Deputy Prime Minister, siloviki chieftain and Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin at number 42. (See the editor’s choice for Russia’s top seven.) Forbes has got a special feature on the politician the Russian press apparently call ‘the scariest person on earth’.

There is little solid information about the man. Like many of Putin’s cronies, Sechin is a St. Petersburg native. In the 1990s he worked in city government. Before that, it’s widely believed he was a spy; Moscow sources confirm that he was a member of the GRU, the KGB’s foreign-intelligence arm. His duties may have included working in Angola and Mozambique, probably as a translator. An American who worked directly with Sechin in the 1990s said Sechin showed utter loyalty to Putin–a fact that is key to his current standing.

Sechin’s reputation is of a fearsome protector of the interests of the Russian state, particularly in the oil sector–like his chairmanship of $68-billion (2008 sales) state oil concern Rosneft. He is widely assumed to be a secret shareholder–though, like his presumed work in intelligence, this has never been proved. Sechin did not respond to several requests for comment.

Does he own a stake in Rosneft? It doesn’t matter,” says Donald Jensen, a former ambassador to Moscow and consultant to the U.S. government on Russia. “It’s more about where the money flows. Money and power and the intelligence services are all mixed together.”

A notorious example of this cozy intersection was the Yukos affair. In 2003, then-billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had built Yukos Oil into a Western-style firm, was convicted of tax fraud and embezzlement and imprisoned for 20 years (he’s currently being tried on new charges). Soon after, Rosneft became the owner of Yukos’ assets. Khodorkovsky has publicly accused Sechin of orchestrating the Yukos affair.

Sechin’s position as leader of the company–and therefore a proxy of the Russian government–gives him unilateral authority to make moves that benefit Rosneft (and possibly himself).

Read on here.