Yakunin Derailed

One of Putin's closest friends, Vladimir Yakunin, the mighty boss of Russian Railways, has lost his influential job. Instead, the 68 year old has become a representative in the state’s Federal Council for the region Kaliningrad, formerly German Koenigsberg (annexed by Russia). The reasons for his downgrade are subject to speculation, with no comment by Moscow’s rulers.

Vladimir Yakunin  /  picture: hs
Vladimir Yakunin / picture: hs

The announcement published by Russian Railways indirectly indicating Yakunin’s ousting from office consisted of a single crude and rather quirky sentence: “in accordance with the decree of the Government of the Russian Federation ‘on the
President of (the) Open Joint Stock Company Russian Railways’, of August 20, 2015, no. 1606-r, Oleg Valentinovich Belozerov has been appointed President of Russian Railways.”
That’s it. No expression of gratitude, no appreciation of Yakunin’s attempts to carefully modernize the sluggish and rigid Russian railway leviathan during his 10 year term as RZD president is mentioned in the company’s official announcement. Plus no word on why the 68 year old lost his influential job.

Belozerov - who?
The release also does not contain any information on Mr. Belozerov, Yakunin’s successor. Evidently, nearly one million employees of the RZD, the world’s largest state-owned railway company, would like to know who their new boss is. All that is known is that Belozerov was the Deputy Minister of Transport before taking Yakunin’s chair. Prior to that he was a board member of Russia’s Federal Tariff Service, an executive body authorized to exercise control on price and tariff regulations which apply to state-run enterprises. The “rest” of his CV only he and the Kremlin seem to know.

Enabling Eurasian Rail Transportation
During Yakunin’s reign some far-reaching decisions were made. The most important one, from the cargo perspective, was the agreement reached between RZD and Deutsche Bahn to cooperate closely, setting up trans-Eurasian rail freight. Implementing this plan quite smoothly is based on the success of two men: RZD’s Vladimir Yakunin and DB’s former CEO Hartmut Mehdorn. They were both thrilled by the chance to snatch away increasing segments of ocean traffic and air freight volume sent between the Far East and Europe by railing the goods from East to West and back again. Today, there are daily cargo trains linking Europe and China, operated mostly by DB Schenker, DHL Global Forwarding and Hellmann Worldwide or on behalf of Chinese and Polish companies.
Meanwhile, this transcontinental rail link has developed into a real alternative to air or ocean transport for an expanding number of goods, including high-tech or temperature sensitive items.

Russia Loves High Speed Trains
Another trail blazing project put on track by Yakunin are the high speed trains by Siemens, Velaro RUS, nicknamed 'Sapsan' (the Peregrine Falcon) by the locals, which connects Russia’s two most populous cities - Moscow and St. Petersburg. They have been running very successfully since December of 2009, bridging the 700 kilometers distance between the cities in less than 4 hours.

Enemy of Democratic Principles
However, capitalizing on western technology or pacting with firms like Deutsche Bahn and Siemens didn’t change Yakunin's attitude who has for long been known as one of the fiercest U.S. haters and enemy of any liberal, democratic idea within Moscow’s new nomenclatura, thus acting and arguing fully in line with Putin’s chauvinistic policy.

But why was Yakunin ousted?
The reasons for his dismissal from RZD’s top job are anyones best guess. The most reasonable explanation: he was a lousy manager who burned up billions of roubles by driving costs, increasing the company debt to Himalayan heights. Only last year the RZD recorded 99.3 billion roubles (€1.3 bn) in losses. Getting deeper and deeper into the red Yakunin and his crew requested billions in state aid but were finally denied by the Putin administration.
This was a clear indication that Yakunin’s days as boss were numbered. That is why his dismissal did not come as big surprise.

Heiner Siegmund. /  Michael Taweel

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