17:33 GMT +3 hours26 May 2016

Sam’s Exchange: Vladimir Putin - exit stage left?

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The first time I heard Vladimir Putin’s name was when I was trading commodities out of London in 1999. What I remember is that Putin was the fifth prime minister of Russia in the space of 18 months. As far as I could tell, President Boris Yeltsin was re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The first time I heard Vladimir Putin’s name was when I was trading commodities out of London in 1999.  What I remember is that Putin was the fifth prime minister of Russia in the space of 18 months. As far as I could tell, President Boris Yeltsin was re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

Russia had defaulted on its sovereign debts the year before, most Russian banks had defaulted, including the one I used to work for, and the whole Russian story looked pretty sad.  I was sure I would not have to commit the name Vladimir Putin to memory for too long.  I was wrong.  Putin appeared as a Russian hero.  He took a country that had lost its way, lost its savings, and most of all lost its pride, and over the last 12 years, has restored each of them.  Now however, observing Russia from a distance, I am wondering, is Putin about to leave public office, exit stage left?

I wonder this because there seems to be a few chinks in the armor of the image of Putin of late.  I cannot ever remember a time when I would read Russian press reports that somehow questioned Putin or his actions.  Despite Western perceptions, Russians are not slow to voice their opinions or concerns.  I know many journalists in Russia, who are anything but a tool of the state. What I mean, is that they are not limited in what they report. Yet I cannot remember anyone writing about Vladimir Putin in a disparaging way, which might question his integrity, his actions, secret bank accounts, or another state official publicly questioning him or rebuking him, until now.

Vladimir Putin stamped his authority on Russia and its oligarchs by jailing Mikhail Khodorkovsky and dismantling Yukos.  No one believed at the time that Putin would in fact effectively bankrupt Yukos via tax charges, or leave Khodorkovsky in jail for so long.  He did.  When Khodorkovsky recently came up on new charges of stealing oil and was found guilty and jailed for another 6 years, no one was surprised at the verdict.  Now, however, we are seeing in the press reports from the judge’s assistant, that the judge in the last Khodorkovsky trial did not actually write the verdict, inferring that there was clear political pressure from above for a guilty verdict.  Not a huge surprise, of course, but reading about someone credible going on the record to say that – is. Added to this, President Medvedev has asked the legal expert community to investigate the integrity of the judicial process in the Khodorkovsky trial.  

The Khodorkovsky trial is widely believed to be Putin’s battle, so any questioning of the process of the trial, to me, would appear to question Putin. It seems that President Medvedev also recently rebuked Prime Minister Putin, when he chided officials for making conclusions about who was behind the recent Domodedovo airport bombing, before a proper and thorough investigation had taken place.  Putin was the only state official to have made any such comment a few hours earlier.

Now, we are not only reading in the Russian press, but seeing photos of a palace that Prime Minister Putin is reportedly building near the Krasnodar region city of Gelendzhik, on the Black Sea, which is costing hundreds of millions of dollars.  Both Putin and his office deny this claim.  The point is that it is being reported in the Russian press at all.  Then there is of course the rumor of Putin’s connection to Gunvor, the world’s third largest oil trader.  Reports, including some from WiliLeaks cables, speculate that Putin is a beneficiary of the profits generated by the huge volumes of crude which Gunvor trade.

We are just over one year away from presidential elections in Russia, which Putin can and many believe will run for.  Putin is a master tactician, and he has worked tirelessly to better the plight of the average Russian, and from my 10 years’ experience of living in Russia, I would say he has been successful in this cause.  There are reports that there is a split in the Putin-Medvedev tandem.  We recently saw the unceremonious removal from office of the powerful mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov.  And it looks like it was Medvedev, not Putin, who removed Luzhkov from office.

Taken separately, each of these news articles about Putin are meaningless.  When you put them together, you cannot miss the fact that Putin is anything but a certainty for the 2012 presidency.  In the past the public has been led to believe that Putin and Medvedev will decide between them who will run for the 2012 presidency.  Has this decision already been made?  Is the stage being set for Putin to exit from front line politics?


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Global Markets are anything but integrated. What if we had a paradigm shift in the way we think, the way we actually do business with each other, between nations. Balanced global trade can only occur if we have transparent, accessible, efficient markets, with standardized contracts and on a standardized platform of global exchange. We are on the cusp of achieving this, although most people cannot see it. Sam’s Exchange aims to give its readers a clearer view and a platform for discussion. Markets, trade and economics are in fact nothing more than the result of our thoughts and actions expressed in numbers, not the reverse.

Sam Barden is CEO of SBI Markets General Trading LLC, a Dubai-registered trading and advisory company. Barden, 39, has worked in the global financial markets for more than 17 years in Europe, Russia and the Middle East. He has advised and executed strategic transactions for both the government and private sector, in particular in energy and commodity markets, advising various energy producing nations on their strategic market developments and interaction. He holds a degree in economics and finance from Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

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