The Dirty Little Secret That Could Kill This Fugitive Putin

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PARIS – There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to liquidate Vladimir Milov.

Milov has been a Russian on the run since 2002. He is today undeniably the most menacing desperado on Putin’s list of most wanted fugitives. Yet the mild-mannered graduate of Moscow State Mine University is neither a defended lawyer nor an academic outcast for rebuking the war in Ukraine. The 50-year-old former Deputy Energy Secretary is Putin’s most terrifying nightmare precisely because he speaks in tongues.

Milov’s language is based on BTUs, BOPs and FPSOs, the strange-sounding and complex acronyms used in the oil and gas industry, the company whose profits support Putin’s Ukrainian bloodshed.

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In an interview with Paris-based The Daily Beast, Milov says the proverbial bottom line of Putin’s ham-fisted control over the 10 or so energy companies responsible for overseeing Russian oil and natural gas can be easily translated into English, Russian, or Klingon.

“Putin can no longer sell Russian energy at a profit,” said Milov, sitting in a conference room overlooking the River Seine. “Russia is losing money on discounted deals it has made with countries like India and Turkey.”

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Perhaps the only dynamic more difficult to digest than Putin’s big energy problem is the brutal reality of Vladimir Milov to understand.

Milov’s troubles began in 2002, when the Kremlin ordered him to submit a plan to restructure oil and gas giant Gazprom. At the same time, Putin was finalizing his 2003 plan that seized the state-owned company’s main competitor, Yukos, and sent its founder, now exiled dissident Mikhail Khordorkovsky, to count Siberia’s birch trees for 10 years on ambiguous charges of fraud, tax evasion and other economic crimes.

“Putin condemned my plan as dangerous to Russia’s national security,” Milov said. “Meeting Putin was always weird,” he adds. “I kept asking myself, ‘How could this little gray mouse become the president of Russia?'”

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It was a question Putin answered by imprisoning Milov’s friends and fellow reformers, Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, both of whom survived failed assassination attempts. Another of Milov’s anti-Putin activist friends, the physicist and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, was gunned down in 2015, two days before he was due to participate in a demonstration against Putin’s war in eastern Ukraine and the looming financial crisis.

Russian opposition activists Ilya Yashin (L) and Vladimir Milov present a report titled “Putin. Results. 2018,” in Moscow on March 14, 2018.

Vasily Maximov/TAUT via Getty

According to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Putin has arrested some 18,000 dissidents since late February at a rate of about 88.8 per day. Milov says taking down enemies is one of the few things Putin is really good at, and as far as he’s concerned, changing the name from the KGB to the FSB was a sclerotic attempt to cosmetically rebrand the secret police.

“The KGB has so far visited the homes of some 60,000 people and threatened them with jail time if they protest against Putin, the war or something else,” Milov said. “The door knocks are echoing quickly throughout the community. The atmosphere of fear is very strong.”

Milov eventually slid into Lithuania’s relative security, where he crunches numbers, works with dissident groups and decodes what he believes to be the mostly fake statistics designed to trick the West into believing that Russia is an energy behemoth.

“You have to understand, the KGB is… always there,” Milov describes his life on the run from a maniacal superpower, whose diabolical leader moved this week to mobilize an additional 300,000 soldiers and once again threatened to launch nuclear weapons against Western capitals.

I cannot and cannot afford to ask myself if I am afraid.

Milov is sitting in between with slack sanctions against Putin’s roughly 6,000 oligarchs, of whom only between 46 and 200 have been effectively disabled, according to the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

“The sanctions are not working as quickly as the West had imagined,” says Milov, pouring sugar into a cup of problematic lukewarm coffee from what appears to be a sealed packet. “But Russia’s industrial production has fallen by 60 to 80 percent and Putin is already in the Stone Age in terms of advanced technology.”

Milov calmly stirs the white crystals without blinking. “Russia will not collapse,” he adds. “It will degrade under Putin until the country is completely detached from the modern age.” His long fingers tap the paper cup. He sips.

“The Russian people are scared,” says Milov after he safely drank his coffee. “I can’t and can’t afford to ask myself if I’m scared,” he adds. “The great awakening will come when the Russian people learn of what he has done in Ukraine. They will be ashamed and send Putin away to stand trial for war crimes.”

While the odds seem slim that Putin will plead his case before an international jury, Milov insists the math boils down to Putin having a much shorter time off to roam the Kremlin than his publicists would have the West believe.

“More than 4.5 million Russians only work part-time and don’t get paid enough,” says Milov, firing numbers with the fury of a Gatling rifle. “That’s 13 percent of a workforce that hasn’t seen wage growth in 20 years. The exodus of Western oil companies has reduced energy production by at least 25 percent, and Putin is torching tens of millions of dollars from our natural gas supplies on TV to show the West that he doesn’t care.”

Tossing an olive pit into his empty cup, Milov insists the sanctions will have a profound long-term effect “no matter how many heads Putin bashing with patriotic propaganda,” he says.

People’s Freedom Party, (LR) Vladimir Ryzhkov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov, address the media in Moscow on March 28, 2011.

Alexey Sazonov/TAUT via Getty

“Putin thinks he has complete energy dominance and can survive the West,” added Milov. “Tell me, which oil or gas trader would be willing to sign a forward contract with him? Russia has disappeared as a major energy supplier. Any company that can’t pay its bills will go bankrupt.”

Milov rejects Putin’s ridiculous plan to build a gas pipeline from Siberia to China. “That would cost $200 billion that Putin doesn’t have,” explains Milov. “He doesn’t realize that China has a significant domestic supply and long-term contracts with foreign suppliers. Don’t buy Putin now selling some energy to China, because he sells it to them at a 30 percent discount and largely untaxed domestically. Russia is not making any money from that deal. It’s losing money and a lot.”

Another red herring is Putin’s plan to ship crude oil to India and Asia. “It’s all discounted,” says Milov. “No profit. It takes more than a month for a tanker to reach India, and that doesn’t take into account the traffic bottlenecks, which add an extra $10 or more per barrel to Russian costs. There is no significant long-term gain in Asia .”

Milov’s main concern is Israel and the deteriorating economy in hard currency-poor Turkey. “Both governments lure Putin with deals, especially in digital components and hardware, but they drive the price 300 percent higher than the cost in the free market.”

For now, Milov is keeping a brave face, especially by looking at his numbers. Western leaders, he advises, should do the same. It’s a waiting game, albeit a deadly one.

Still, Milov thinks Putin’s behavior has changed dramatically. “He’s now running around the world, a carpet bagger begging for help,” he says. “It may seem like a small detail, but it’s an important psychological detail. Putin needs help, and he doesn’t get much of it.”

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