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Mikhail (Mikailovich) Kasyanov

Mikhail Kasyanov is one of Russia’s most controversial opposition leaders. His political career has undergone a tumultuous transformation since his early days as a front-rank specialist of the Soviet Institute. He was a promising candidate as a young politician in Yeltsin’s entourage and rose to the top in Putin’s government. Today he is known as one of the Kremlin’s most ardent critics.

Mikhail (Mikailovich) Kasyanov was born 08 December 1957 in the city of Solntsevo in the Moscow Region. After finishing secondary school, Kasyanov entered the Moscow Motor Vehicle and Road Institute. In 1976 - 1978 he served in the Soviet Army. He then returned to the institute before taking a job at the Research Institute of Industrial Transport. In 1981 he moved to a position with the Planning Committee of the RSFSR (GOSPLAN) where he stayed until 1990. He finished an educational course in foreign relations and went from an engineer to the head of the Foreign Relations Department.

In 1991 Kasyanov joined the Ministry of Economy of the Russian Federation and was promoted from his duties as Deputy Head of the Foreign Economic Relations Sub-department to Head of the department. In 1992 he became Head of the Ministry’s Consolidation Department. A year later he was appointed Head of the Department of Foreign Credits and External Debt of the Finance Ministry and also became a member of the Ministry’s Board. In 1995 was appointed Deputy Finance Minister. He worked in the cabinet of three different prime ministers (Chernomyrdin, Kiriyenko, Primakov).

When the 1998 financial default hit, Kasyanov became one of the chief negotiators in the restructuring of external debt. Shortly after he was promoted to First Deputy Finance Minister and in 1999 he became Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation in the cabinet of Sergey Stepashin. Kasyanov kept the post when Vladimir Putin was appointed prime minister. Following President Yeltsin’s resignation in January 2000 Kasyanov was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation by the then acting president, Vladimir Putin.

Kasyanov's political pedigree should not be forgotten. Kasyanov is a "Family" man; meaning he was part of the insider political establishment during the chaotic years under former president Boris Yelstin. Instead of observing the rule of law, Kasyanov engaged in influence peddling and punished opponents of the "Family's" rule. These are not the most convincing credentials from a politician hoping to advance Russia's democracy.

While the vast majority of Russians fell into poverty during the 1990s as a result of legally questionable privatization of state property, Kasyanov is known to have lived the good life and earned himself the nickname "Misha 2%" for alleged personal corruption. If even one of the many charges of alleged abuse of office is true, Kasyanov could face jail. How in the world could a civil servant, after being finance minister and prime minister, afford to purchase - even at a knocked down price - an elite piece of property? One can easily ask the question how much different Kasyanov is from Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

After Putin’s inauguration, he became Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Kasyanov was named prime minister in May 2000 and held the post until February 2004. Kasyanov’s government reformed many aspects of Russia's taxation, customs and pension systems and reorganized national infrastructure. During his tenure the Russian economy grew by almost one-third and inflation declined significantly.

As prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov became the first – and practically the only – top official to criticise the authorities' campaign to bring down Khodorkovsky's Yukos empire, calling Lebedev's detention "extreme measures" in July 2003.

The summer of 2003 became a watershed moment that defined Russian policy and carries considerable implications for the Kremlin's current fight against corruption. "During the last five years, the propagation of a value system that presumes anything can be bought and sold led to a situation where government officials were ready to go against any principle for money," Kasyanov says. "Five years ago, at least there were values and principles that were considered incorruptible. Now those values do not exist." When it comes to freedom of expression, Kasyanov was remarkably silent as prime minister durin

g the saga that witnessed the state's takeover of Gusinsky's media empire, including NTV. Gusinsky's negative coverage of "Family" interests during the 1999 parliamentary resulted in his arrest, released, and later self-imposed exile.

While serving as prime minister, Kasyanov was the "oligarchs' broker" along with former presidential head of staff Alexander Voloshin. Kasyanov understood very well that he would never be accepted as a Kremlin insider under Putin. He was a temporary political appointee representing the interests of the "Family" and the system of oligarchic capitalism it created. Kasyanov knew that his time in power would eventually come to an end. After all, he is one of the creators of the Russia's post-communist political order - he knew how the system worked.

The Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) signed by Vice President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov in 2000 committed each side to dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium. The Protocol is essential for full implementation of the PMDA since the Russian program set forth in 2000 proved incompatible with Russia’s nuclear energy strategy and was, thus, not financially viable. Russia’s announcement of its nuclear strategy in 2006, and clarification of its preferred disposition approach in 2007, provided a basis for the two sides to update the PMDA via this Protocol in a manner that coincides with that strategy.

As Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov initiated a plan on reforming Russia’s energy monopoly, RAO UES (2001). He was also the author of several reforms aimed at federal authorities, including the government of the Russian Federation. In 2003 his government cut the VAT from 18% to 16%. That same year Kasyanov reduced financing for military reform. A number of deputies of the State Duma tried to pass a vote of no confidence against his government but failed.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced in September 2002 that Russia intends to ratify the Kyoto Protocol "in the near future." The announcement was made during the Prime Minister's speech to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Combined with the announcement that Canada intends to ratify the treaty (covered in last week's EREN Network News), the Russian news indicates an increasing probability that the global warming treaty will enter into force.

On 18 June 2003 Russia's lower house of parliament rejected a motion of no-confidence in the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The no-confidence measure was backed by 172 deputies in the 450-seat State Duma, while 163 lawmakers voted against it and six abstained. The motion needed a simple majority of 226 votes to pass. The vote, initiated by communist lawmakers and the liberal Yabloko party, was not expected to succeed because the chamber is dominated by pro-Kremlin moderates. Opposition parties in the Duma accused the government of failing to make progress on economic reforms and increase standards of living. The government views the vote as the opening round of the campaign for parliamentary elections, scheduled for December 2003, and presidential elections set for early 2004.

Prime Minister Kasyanov opened the Duma session 16 January 2004, telling the assembled deputies that Russia's economic growth was strong throughout 2003, and should continue this year. He said the long-term aim is to double Russia's gross domestic product within 10 years, a goal that President Vladimir Putin has set as a priority. However, the prime minister reminded the Duma, which was dominated by pro-Kremlin parties, that not all Russians are benefiting from the economic growth. He said close to 30 million Russians live below the poverty line, and the Duma must work to change that.

He started the policy of active collaboration with civil society and business community. During its four-year term Kasyanov's Cabinet launched a number of structural reforms – tax and budget reform, liberalization of capital control and external trade, customs reform, reorganization of national infrastructure, pension reform, creation of land market and others. Successful implementation of systemic transformation measures led Russia to a trajectory of sustainable economic growth. Inflation was reduced significantly, the economy and people's income grew by almost one third while oil prices were at the level of $20-25 per barrel.

In January 2004 Kasyanov became the head of the Presidential Council against Corruption. A month later he was sacked along with his cabinet. Political analysts in Moscow say they saw the sacking of the government coming, but many said they were surprised Putin made the move so close to the presidential election. Igor Bunin, of the Center for Political Technologies research institute, characterized the president's move as an aggressive show of his political power. He said President Putin wants to show everyone he is the master of his own house, meaning the Kremlin. In doing so, he says, Putin showed he rules everything, makes all the decisions, and that no one can challenge him.

Kasyanov took a brief rest from politics and in 2005 he started his own advisory company, MK Analytica. He began to criticize Putin and his government and constantly accused them of backsliding on democracy. Kasyanov then declared his intention to take part in the presidential elections in 2008.

Kasyanov, the only declared candidate for the 2008 presidential election, faced a tough and thus far frustrating slog in his bid to unite the democratic opposition behind him. Many remained suspicious of Kasyanov and believe he must do more to burnish his democratic credentials. Among other things, many democrats view his reputation for corruption and his close ties to Russian business "oligarchs" as an Achilles heel. In addition to continued strong opposition from the Kremlin, Kasyanov still needs to demonstrate to the general public that he is not corrupt and prove to the liberal opposition that he is a genuine democrat worthy of support.

In 2006 he became the chairman of the People’s Democratic Union that was later transformed into the People for Democracy and Justice political party, which was never officially registered. In 2006 Kasyanov took part in “The Other Russia” conference. The conference was held on the eve of the G8 summit that was hosted by Russia and was declared an alternative event. Kasyanov also took part in the so-called “Marches of Dissent” that were held by the radical opposition. However in 2007 Kasyanov refused to cooperate with “The Other Russia” movement citing numerous differences.

In December 2007 Kasyanov was approved as the presidential candidate by his movement. However in 2008 the Central Elections Committee refused to register his candidacy citing numerous irregularities within the documents presented for registration. On 01 NOvember 2009 Russia's Election Commission has barred former prime minister and Kremlin critic Mikhail Kasyanov from the March presidential election. The commission ruled Sunday that Kasyanov had tens of thousands of invalid signatures on his nominating petition. Independent candidates need at least two million valid signatures from across the country to register to run for president.

Ever since the early 1990s Kasyanov’s name has often been mentioned in the media in connection to financial gerrymanders. As Prime Minister he was widely called “Misha two percent” following rumors that he required 2% of every deal that passed through the government in kickbacks.

There were allegations of Kasynov’s links to the disappearance of almost US $5 billion of stabilization credit that was allocated by the IMF. Although the case gained much publicity it never reached the courts.

In 2005 the General Prosecutors office initiated a case against Kasyanov on misappropriation of state property following allegations by State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein. In Russia it was known as the “Dacha Case.” According to Khinshtein, while Prime Minister, Kasyanov put up for sale and illegally privatized two luxury state mansions. The case was interrupted and then restarted again and the court obliged Kasyanov to return one of the houses and pay a fine of over US $4 million.

Kasyanov is at times the subject of criticism from opposition activists who accuse him of inconstancy in his views and question his sincere commitment to stand up against the Kremlin.

On 01 February 2016, the head of the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, Ramzan Kadyrov, posted a video online that depicted two leaders of the political opposition, Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Kara-Murza, in a gunman’s cross-hairs. The image of a gunman’s cross-hairs is the latest in a series of menacing statements Kadyrov has issued in recent weeks against prominent journalists and activists, calling them “traitors” and “enemies of the people.” These comments are clearly meant to intimidate, and to have a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression in Russia, if not also to serve as a direct call for violence.

The fact is that critics of the Kremlin are assassinated at an alarming rate. Vladimir Kara-Murza nearly died in 2015 after being poisoned. Nemstov was assassinated near Red Square in Moscow early in 2015 while preparing a report documenting Russian troop involvement in the war in Ukraine, contrary to the Russian Government’s assertions. Suspicions fell on Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was linked to the alleged killers and voiced support for the main suspect, Zaur Dadayev, calling him a “true patriot” of Russia.

Kasyanov assumed the leadership of the liberal opposition People's Freedom Party, or PARNAS party, a leading opposition party that was previously headed by Boris Nemstov.

Mikhail Kasyanov is married and has two daughters.

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Page last modified: 22-04-2016 19:17:37 ZULU