Vladimir Putin has insisted for years that Russia made a colossal mistake by privatizing the nation's giant reserves of oil, gas, and other natural resources after the fall of the Soviet Union. The president-turned-prime minister has made muscular efforts to renationalize those industries—most notoriously the Yukos oil company, whose CEO is in a Siberian jail. Now the Kremlin is using the economic crisis as leverage to take over troubled companies, the New York Times reports.
In one striking case this year, a Putin deputy called a private meeting with a billionaire mining oligarch, whom he threatened with crushing financial penalties for an old accident for which the company had not been blamed. News of that meeting caused the company's stock to tank, costing the CEO billions and setting it up for a government takeover. "It looks really aggressive and really risky," says one Moscow banker, who called it "the most serious attack on a company since Yukos."