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Analysis & Opinion
03.07.08 Mission Accomplished
By Sergei Balashov

Abramovich wasn’t your typical candidate for governor. He wasn’t a career politician, nor did he enjoy much publicity. Just a little over a year before he won the election, instead of his photograph, a television report showed a sketch of Abramovich made by an Arbat painter from a rare video shot taken of him in the State Duma. It went far beyond just his image. Once he arrived in Chukotka, many didn’t see his role, and not just his attitude, exactly as that of a governor.

“Roman Abramovich came to Chukotka as a crisis manager,” explained John Mann, Abramovich’s official spokesman and head of Millhouse’s press-service department. “The plight of the region was disastrous.”

The new governor relied on the most obvious method of rehabilitating the troubled region by funneling money into it.

“He’s managed to do a lot since then,” continued Mann. “He didn’t just improve the quality of life and things such as communal services, but also built infrastructure such as schools, housing, equipment for hospitals, as well as hospitals themselves, and invited new investors to Chukotka.”

According to some estimates, Abramovich spent over $1.5 billion of his own money and attracted around $1 billion from foreign investors that came to the region. These include his own holding company Millhouse Capital and Canadian Kinroos, which purchased 75 percent of the Kupol gold mine. His generosity was even noted by former President Vladimir Putin earlier this year, who commented that Abramovich “wasn’t greedy and invested much of his own money into the development of the region,” adding that “a lot has been done in Chukotka over the past years.”

Abramovich’s spending spree in Russia’s most distant region, which has the population of just a little over 55,000, has been linked to his willingness to develop the image of a Kremlin-friendly oligarch to gain immunity from rows with the President and the government, having learned his lessons from another Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was jailed in 2003.

Whatever Abramovich’s true motivations were, the results of his tenure are impressing. “The crisis is gone, and people in Chukotka live as good as in other Russian regions, if not better,” said Mann. “While in Russia the birthrate has gone down and the death rate has gone up, exactly the opposite has happened in Chukotka. Now, it has one of the highest birthrates in the country.”

Abramovich’s deputy Roman Kopin has been appointed as Chukotka’s interim governor. Whoever takes over on a permanent basis will inherit a totally different region than it was a decade ago.

“Abramovich has set the foundation for development,” said Mann. “The next governor will act as a business manager who comes after a crisis. He’ll be more concerned with profits rather than guiding the company out of crisis. He’ll have his own vision for managing the region.”

There will still be problems to solve, but these, according to Abramovich’s spokesman, will be of a totally different kind. “There are still some social problems and things to do, such as support the native people and their language, but these are minor compared to what Abramovich had to deal with,” said Mann. “You can compare it to building a house, say, once you’ve built it, you still have to install glass units, central heating, etc. But the house itself has already been built.”

Despite his resignation, Abramovich will not be severing his connection to the region anytime soon. “He’s going to stay in a different capacity,” explained Mann. “He’s still the owner of Millhouse Capital, which will continue operating in Chukotka, and he has two charity funds there. He’ll continue investments into infrastructure and charity work.”

One way or another, Abramovich’s legacy has been indelibly etched into the history of the Chukotka autonomous district. “All of the people I have met expressed deep respect for Roman Abramovich after returning from Chukotka,” said Mann. “We can say that his mission there is accomplished.”
The source
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