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Oleg Deripaska – Open Letter published in Washington Post


Although I am a Physicist by training, I know that words matter.

 

It appears the Associated Press, when confronted, knows it too. Last week, AP falsely wrote that President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort “secretly worked” under a “contract” with me with “a plan to ‘greatly benefit the Putin Government.’” AP’s supposed “proof” is a mélange of mythical, unnamed (absurdly "because they were not authorized to discuss the business arrangement openly," as if they were authorized to discuss those alleged arrangements anonymously) sources, a “confidential strategy plan” that neither I nor the public have ever seen, and an easy conflation of truth, falsehood and anti-Russian innuendo. Clearly, the AP sought to trample over me as a means of obtaining the “Russia story” every reporter is chasing these days.

 

On March 28, I sought to correct these falsehoods in advertisements I took out in major newspapers.  The next day the AP, ostensibly “standing by its story” but in actuality scrambling to say that they didn’t say what they said, sought to un-conflate a contract that I actually had with Manafort to advise my company RUSAL’s political and business interests with a “confidential strategy plan” that they claim was designed to act upon interests of the Russian state. AP was forced to admit that the “alleged contract did not contain that language” about my foreign corporate work benefitting the Russian state. And now they have backed off the claim I received or read the "confidential strategy memo," if it even exists.

 

For years, perhaps mistakenly, I have watched idly as the US media episodically smeared me, my company RUSAL, and by extension my country Russia. Perhaps it was my choice to remain silent that emboldened the AP with a sense of impunity. The latest round of scurrilous reporting is simply too false and too damaging to me, my proud employees and their families, and my country to go unanswered.

 

It is astonishing how many canards can exist in so few words. The AP bases its storytelling on the sly and insinuating allegations that I am “a Russian billionaire close to President Vladimir Putin” and that I “amassed” my “fortune under Putin.” This is misleading as to the former and false as to the latter. AP suspends the reality of chronology; In the early 1990s I started and flourished in my business long before President Putin came to power or even moved to Moscow from St. Petersburg, immediately after my graduation from the physics faculty of Moscow State University.

 

As a student, my country was going through wrenching upheavals. I entered university in 1985 as a citizen of the Soviet Union, and when I graduated in 1993, the country itself no longer existed. The absence of any funding for academia rendered my intended Physics career an impossibility. In 1993, as a young commodity trader working on the Moscow Commodity Exchange, I and a group of my colleagues first began to realize the opportunities of a market economy and the fundamental problems in the Russian aluminum industry. A large-scale privatization was underway, and we had ideas about how to revitalize an intensely cost-based industry to make it efficient, competitive, transparent and “green,” using low cost renewable energy resources. 

 

My company started to buy shares in the Sayanogorsk Aluminum Smelter in Eastern Siberia. By November 1994, my company had become the largest private shareholder in this smelter, and I was elected at the annual shareholder meeting by shareholder vote as the company CEO. Within a few years, I and my colleagues executed a plan to modernize the operation. We were running the small but most efficient aluminum plant in Russia, producing primary metals, aluminum foil and other products. This was a turning point in my career, but it was marked by tremendous difficulty in addition to 18-hour working days. It took me more than 10 years of dedicated work to consolidate and then transform an industry which was on a verge of collapse into a vertically integrated leading global aluminum group called RUSAL.

 

America, which celebrates success, and prizes efficiency, industrial innovation, honesty, hard work and corporate governance, was always an inspiration for my efforts to build my company. Yet one never hears coded innuendo such as “Warren Buffett, an American billionaire close to Obama” or the criminal suggestiveness of “Bill Gates amassed his fortune under Clinton.” Nor should one. Nor should there be a “Russian exception” to libel protections.

 

The AP story wildly asserts that I “bought assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin interests.” Which particular assets could I have bought that would possibly benefit what Kremlin interests? Despite the fact that aluminum is the most widespread metal on Earth, it does not occur in nature in pure form. Russia does not have large deposits of bauxite – the raw material that is used to produce alumina, and later aluminum. The situation became drastic after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Major alumina refineries that had been part of the Soviet economy were now located in different countries. The production facilities left in Russia itself were only able to meet 40 percent of the demand for raw aluminum materials.

 

In order to build a strong company, it was essential to create a stable supply chain. We first turned our attention to Guinea, an African nation that contains 1/3 of the world’s bauxite reserves. (Guinea also now contains an effective EBOLA vaccine, the clinical discovery of which the Russian government, RUSAL and I personally funded as a public good in a struggling country that is our important partner). Later on, we acquired a stake in an alumina refinery in Australia, the country with the best quality of bauxite. After our merger with Swiss company Glencore, their bauxite and alumina assets in Jamaica, Italy and Ireland were added to RUSAL’s portfolio. In short order, we transformed from a company with limited supplies of bauxite into a vertically integrated corporation, publicly traded on the Hong Kong Exchange, employing over 60,000 employees worldwide, and producing among the most efficient and environmentally cleanest aluminum, with the lowest carbon footprint, in the world.

 

Finally, regarding the overarching theory hurled into the public domain by the AP, why would the Russian Government ever turn to private business to run the AP’s apocryphal $10 million plus campaign to “undermine anti-Russian political movements” abroad?

 

Perhaps AP recognized this flaw in their own hatchet reporting when they wrote one true thing, albeit an understatement: “the work actually performed is unclear.” Nevertheless, the poison was already disseminated. And yet surely, an actual $10M plus campaign to lobby Russian interests worldwide would leave some trace, a slew of at least unnamed sources, subcontractors, contracts and work output? Unfortunately, fictional work does not leave a real trail. And a supposed blue sky proposal (if it even exists) from a consultant is not the factual basis for anything. Why would AP fail to confirm if I accepted, signed or even saw Manafort's alleged proposal?

 

This latest character assassination is merely a symptom of a larger problem. We Russians are systematically portrayed in traditional US media (and in all messaging by US government officials) as savage barbarians, thieves, aggressors, and as a people who despise and oppose liberty and its principles.  These clichéd and false demonizations do little to foster constructive relations between our countries. Despite this artificial enmity, my 200,000 employees, their families, and I enjoy friendly, positive and professional relations with America and Americans (including our major suppliers, customers and financial institutions) on the basis of shared values and mutual respect.

 

I like many Russians am working in our country to promote continued improvements in our civil society, often modeled on successful American approaches.  I undertake this in myriad ways including offering opportunities to Russian youth to realize their potential. Annually over 30,000 schoolchildren and students take part in our all-Russia Robofest robotics competition organized by my charitable foundation while over 10,000 children are enrolled into special educational programs in human and technical sciences organized by us.

Over 200,000 people currently work with me at our enterprises in 41 regions of Russia and in 21 countries across 5 continents. We are not wards of the state as the AP article suggests. I refuse to be dragged as collateral damage into the increasingly shrill and controversial theatre of US-Russia relations. If necessary, I will write and publish a piece every day to counteract the false, anti-Russian narratives being served as daily bread by the traditional US media.

 
 
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