PARIS—There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to kill Vladimir Milov.
Milov has been a Russian on the run since 2002. Today he is, without a doubt, the most threatening outlaw on Putin’s most wanted fugitive list. Yet the affable Moscow State Mining University graduate is neither a banished lawyer nor an academic outcast for railing against the war in Ukraine. The 50-year-old former deputy energy minister is Putin’s most fearsome nightmare precisely because he speaks in tongues.
Milov’s language is based on BTU, BOP and FPSO, the complex and strange-sounding acronyms used in the oil and gas industry, the business whose profits support Putin’s bloodshed in Ukraine.
In an interview with The Daily Beast from Paris, Milov says the proverbial end result of Putin’s bumbling 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 Russia’s energy at a profit,” Milov says, sitting in a conference room overlooking the Seine River. “Russia is losing money on discount deals he has made with countries like India and Turkey.”
Perhaps the only dynamic harder to digest than Putin’s big energy problem is understanding the ruthless reality of being Vladimir Milov.
Milov’s troubles began in 2002, when the Kremlin ordered him to come up with a plan to restructure oil and gas giant Gazprom. At the same time, Putin was putting the finishing touches on his 2003 scheme that seized the majority state-owned company’s main competitor, Yukos, and sent its founder, now-exiled dissident Mikhail Khordorkovsky, to count the birches in Siberia. for 10 years. for ambiguous charges of fraud, tax evasion and other economic crimes.
“Putin condemned my plan as dangerous for Russia’s national security,” says Milov. “Meeting Putin was always strange,” he adds. “I kept asking myself: ‘How could this little gray mouse become the president of Russia?’”
It was a question Putin answered by jailing Milov’s friends and fellow reformers, Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, who survived failed assassination attempts. Another of Milov’s anti-Putin activist friends, physicist and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, was shot dead in 2015, two days before he was due to take part in a rally against Putin’s war in eastern Ukraine and the financial crisis that followed. was coming
According to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Putin since the end of February has detained some 18,000 dissidents at a rate of about 88.8 a day. Milov says rounding up enemies is one of the few things Putin is really good at, and as far as he’s concerned, changing the name of the KGB to the FSB was a sclerotic attempt to change the name of the secret police.
“So far, the KGB has visited the homes of about 60,000 people, threatening them with prison if they protest against Putin, the war or anything else,” says Milov. “The knocking on doors resonates with almost the entire community. The atmosphere of fear is very strong.”
Milov eventually went to the relative safety of Lithuania, where he crunches numbers, works with dissident groups and decodes what he says are mostly bogus statistics designed to make the West believe Russia is an energy colossus.
“You must understand, the KGB is forever there,” is how Milov describes his life on the run from a maniacal superpower, whose diabolical leader this week moved to mobilize an additional 300,000 troops and once again threatened to launch nuclear weapons against Western capitals.
“I can’t afford to wonder if I’m scared.”
Milov finds himself between two benches over loose sanctions against Putin’s roughly 6,000 oligarchs, of whom only 46 to 200 have been effectively shut down, according to the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
“Sanctions are not working as fast as the West had thought,” says Milov, pouring sugar into a cup of lukewarm coffee of problematic origin from what appears to be a sealed package. “But Russia’s industrial output is down 60 to 80 percent, and in terms of high technology, Putin is already back in the Stone Age.”
Milov calmly shakes the white crystals without blinking. “Russia will not collapse,” he adds. “It will degrade under Putin until the country is completely cut off from the modern era.” His long fingers tap the paper cup. Hey sips.
“The Russian population is scared,” Milov says after safely drinking his coffee. “I can’t afford to wonder if I’m scared,” he adds. “The great awakening will come when the Russian people learn what they have done in Ukraine. They will be ashamed and send Putin to stand trial for war crimes.”
Although the likelihood of Putin pleading his case before an international jury seems remote, Milov insists the math adds up to Putin having less time freely roaming the Kremlin than his publicists want the West to believe.
“More than 4.5 million Russians only work part-time and are not paid enough,” says Milov, firing off numbers with the fury of a Gatling gun. “That’s 13 percent of a workforce that hasn’t seen any wage growth in 20 years. The exodus of Western oil companies has decreased energy production by at least 25 percent, and Putin is burning tens of millions of dollars of our natural gas supplies on TV to show the West that he doesn’t care.”
Tossing an olive pit into his empty glass, Milov argues that the sanctions will have a profound long-term effect, “regardless of how many heads Putin hits with patriotic propaganda,” he says.
“Putin thinks he has total command of energy and can outlast the West,” adds Milov. “Tell me, what oil or gas trader would be willing to sign a futures contract with him? Russia is gone as a major energy supplier. Any business that can’t pay its bills goes bankrupt.”
Milov dismisses Putin’s vaunted plan to build a gas pipeline from Siberia to China as ridiculous. “That would cost $200 billion that Putin doesn’t have,” explains Milov. “He doesn’t realize that China has significant domestic supply and long-term contracts with foreign suppliers. Do not think that Putin now sells some energy to China, because he is selling it to them at a 30 percent discount and mostly without taxes at the national level. Russia is not making any money from that deal. It’s losing money and a lot.”
Another red herring is Putin’s move to ship crude oil to India and Asia. “Everything is discounted,” says Milov. “No profit. It takes more than a month for a tanker to reach India, and that’s not taking into account traffic bottlenecks, which add an extra $10 or more a barrel to Russia’s costs. There are no significant profits to be had.” long term in Asia.
Milov’s biggest concern is Israel and the deteriorating economy in currency-poor Turkey. “Both governments are luring Putin in with deals, particularly on digital components and hardware, but they are raising the price 300 percent above the free market cost.”
At the moment, Milov is keeping a brave face, mainly by looking at his numbers. Western leaders, he advises, should do the same. It is a waiting game, albeit a deadly one.
Still, Milov Reckon’s Putin behavior has changed dramatically. “He’s now running around the world, a brat asking for help,” he says. “It may seem like a small detail, but it is an important psychological detail. Putin needs help, and he’s not getting much of it.”