Swamped with debt, Oleg Deripaska seemed the most likely of Russia’s tycoons to fall victim to the financial crisis a year ago. Today he is on his way to preserving most of his sprawling empire, thanks to bailouts from the Kremlin and breaks from foreign lenders.

A month ago, Mr. Deripaska closed a deal to delay repayment of $7.4 billion in foreign loans. This week, he kicks off marketing for an initial public offering of UC Rusal, the aluminum giant that is the core of his holdings.

One key party has already committed to buying shares: a state bank whose chairman is Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Deripaska’s experience underscores the strangely symbiotic relationship between Russia’s oligarchs and a leader, Prime Minister Putin, who once threatened to eliminate them ‘as a class.’ It also helps explain how the oil-fired Putin regime has survived a financial and economic crisis that once appeared to threaten its foundation.

When the crisis struck in 2008, Russia’s business elite was gripped by fears the Kremlin would take advantage of the debt-burdened tycoons’ straits to grab prime assets. The crisis was likely to result in ‘massive redistribution of assets,’ one tycoon said at the time. Instead, whereas Western nations’ bailouts have sometimes wiped out shareholders, the Russian authorities have so far taken care to protect the interests of the billionaires who control much of industry.

The waves of bankruptcies and nationalizations many here expected were judged too destabilizing to risk, according to government advisers. Keeping loyal oligarchs afloat has checked the political impact of the financial crisis by limiting layoffs. The tycoons, in turn, have obliged by sometimes playing the role of whipping boy on state television. Mr. Putin ‘needs there to be a multiplicity of oligarchs for him to keep power,’ said one person close to Rusal.

For all of his efforts to build up state companies and his tough talk about tycoons, Mr. Putin thus has relied on them to run many industrial complexes Russia inherited from the Soviet Union. Before the crisis, the most dynamic players, like Mr. Deripaska, became ambassadors for Russia’s economic expansion, gobbling up assets overseas. Since then, the tycoons have provided the capitalist engine driving Mr. Putin’s Kremlin-dominated system.

Exactly what Mr. Deripaska’s relationship to the Kremlin is remains unclear. Both sides say it is purely business. But he is well-connected, with direct access to Mr. Putin and other top officials, according to people close to him.

Mr. Deripaska is often a member of the business delegation when Mr. Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev travel abroad. The 42-year-old billionaire has been a big investor in Kremlin-backed projects such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He wins points for his efforts to save Soviet-era behemoths like the OAO GAZ auto factory and an aircraft maker.

Like the other remaining oligarchs, he studiously avoids independent political activity. For years, Russian officials from Mr. Putin on down have lobbied the U.S. to lift a ban on granting Mr. Deripaska a visa. Except for special permits arranged through the Federal Bureau of Investigation last year, the efforts have failed, amid what U.S. officials say are concerns about whether Mr. Deripaska has ties to organized crime. Canada also denied him visas twice under a law that covers ‘alleged criminality,’ Rusal disclosed in IPO documents last week. Mr. Deripaska denies any criminal ties and has never been charged with a crime.

In testimony in a suit pending in London, he has said former associates forced him to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in ‘protection’ for his aluminum business in the 1990s. Other witnesses have testified that Mr. Deripaska continued to have friendly relationships with people he said had forced him to pay. The suit was brought by one of Mr. Deripaska’s ex-associates, Mikhail Cherney, whose version of events is that Mr. Deripaska was his partner and owes him a 13% stake in Rusal; Mr. Deripaska disputes that.

The aluminum industry was one of the most lucrative in the chaos following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. By the end of the 1990s, Mr. Deripaska controlled a large chunk of the industry. Around the time Mr. Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president in 2000, Mr. Deripaska began to diversify into autos, aviation, construction and finance. In 2001, he married Polina Yumasheva, whose father was a top Kremlin official under Mr. Yeltsin. Mr. Deripaska has said he doesn’t derive political or business benefit from his marriage.

Mr. Deripaska bought out his partners in Rusal, which had ample cash flow thanks to rising metals prices and low taxes. Borrowing from foreign banks, he built up debts across his empire of nearly $30 billion.

But the financial crisis slashed the worth of assets against which he and other tycoons had borrowed. They faced huge demands from lenders for more collateral — margin calls they couldn’t meet.

Creditors seized a 20% stake Mr. Deripaska had acquired in Canadian auto-parts maker Magna International Inc. Rusal also faced the risk of losing a 25% interest it had bought near the top of the market in OAO Norilsk Nickel. Foreign banks that once rushed to lend to him now took a tough line. Some, as recipients of bailouts at home, dared not be seen as going easy on foreign clients, bankers say.

In the U.K., meanwhile, Mr. Deripaska found himself at the center of a controversy over whether Tory politicians had asked him for contributions when they visited him on his yacht off Corfu. All denied it.

Weighed down by their debts, oligarchs begged the Kremlin for help. Officials were sympathetic, fearing the loss of strategic assets to foreign banks. Days before banks’ payment deadlines,Vneshekonombank (VEB), the Russian state bank where Mr. Putin is chairman, lent Rusal $4.5 billion to repay the foreigners. VEB also made loans to other other oligarchs.

Business leaders worried the moves would turn into nationalization by stealth. The loans were for only a year. The fear was that if they couldn’t be repaid when they came due, the state bank would claim the collateral. Mr. Deripaska hastily made peace with another tycoon with whom he had skirmished over control of Norilsk. The purpose was to keep the government from using the conflict as a pretext to gain control of the nickel company, people close to the men say.

As metals prices continued to fall, Mr. Deripaska’s empire seemed the most vulnerable to seizure by creditors. One confidant recalls advising him to just ‘turn it all over to the state and do yoga for three years.’ Instead, Mr. Deripaska worked tirelessly to save his business. He took back the CEO role at Rusal, which he’d given up years earlier, and rushed to cut costs. He dismissed offers to sell assets at steep discounts.

In January, he and several other struggling oligarchs pitched the idea of merging their holdings into a metals giant that would be partly state-owned. The Kremlin wasn’t interested. It figured minority stakes in the businesses would be of little benefit, say officials, while a full-scale takeover would threaten the fragile political balance among the various business families with ties to the Kremlin.

‘Nobody’s taking anything from anyone,’ said Igor Sechin, a powerful deputy prime minister and proponent of greater state control, in an interview later. Mr. Deripaska, Mr. Sechin added with a smile, ‘is very able, smart and educated, well-known in the world. Let him work.’

The government instead put several of Mr. Deripaska’s companies, including GAZ, on the list of businesses in line for state aid. Though Russian officials said it wasn’t a bailout of oligarchs, analysts said that was what the aid amounted to. Mr. Deripaska has rejected the idea that he was bailed out.

For the government, preserving jobs was a key issue. Unemployment was surging, triggering fears of social unrest. By spring, state television was regularly covering the plight of laid-off or unpaid workers in one-company towns, highlighting the failure of the plants’ owners to take care of employees.

At Pikalyovo, a small town near St. Petersburg, workers blocked a highway to protest layoffs and the cutoff of factory-provided hot water. Mr. Deripaska was just one of three tycoons who owned Pikalyovo’s factories, but he got the bulk of the blame from state television.

Mr. Putin made a ‘surprise’ visit in early June. TV coverage showed Mr. Deripaska looking like a penitent schoolboy as the prime minister ordered him to sign a contract restarting the plant, and then demanded the oligarch return his pen.

Insisting the plants be reopened, Mr. Putin told him and the other tycoons, ‘If you can’t agree among yourselves, then we’ll do it without you.’ Press commentators started talking of the looming end of Mr. Deripaska’s career.

What TV didn’t show was that even as Mr. Deripaska played the scapegoat in Mr. Putin’s populist set piece, the tycoon was being well-rewarded. That same week, the Kremlin agreed in principle to extend its $4.5 billion loan for a year. And soon, authorities approved $600 million in subsidies to help GAZ restructure.

In addition, behind the scenes, Mr. Putin lobbied for a deal that would benefit the oligarch’s GAZ factory, a Russian-backed takeover of General Motors’ Opel AG unit. Mr. Deripaska later said the situation in Pikalyovo had been just a misunderstanding.

In his talks with foreign creditors, Mr. Deripaska’s confidence showed. He refused to give ground in loan-restructuring talks. At the end of July, the banks agreed in principle to a deal that would give Rusal four extra years to repay its giant loans.

‘The more loudly were being buried, the easier it was to make deals with creditors,’ Mr. Deripaska told a Russian newspaper in September.

VEB, the state bank where Mr. Putin is chairman, pitched in. In October, it officially extended its $4.5 billion loan until October 2010. Though that was enough to take the pressure off Rusal — which continues to hold its stake in Norilsk, pledged on the loan — Mr. Deripaska had asked for more. In a letter to Mr. Putin, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Deripaska had sought a four-year term and reduced interest rate.

A spokesman for Mr. Putin said ‘there are reasonable limits’ to the flexibility the government has shown to big business.

In the middle of last year, with global markets recovering, Rusal revived an IPO plan it had shelved in 2007.

Mr. Deripaska obtained special entry permits through the FBI that let him visit the U.S. in August and October. He discussed the IPO plan on Wall Street and went to Detroit to lobby for an Opel deal. (GM ultimately kept Opel.)

While some U.S. investment banks were leery about the Rusal IPO, it had no trouble finding underwriters. Mr. Deripaska went to China with Mr. Putin in October, lining up deals to sell Rusal’s metal and pitching its shares.

Back in Moscow, on a day in mid-November, he sat for hours on a couch outside Mr. Putin’s office in the prime minister’s suburban residence, sending text messages as he waited for a meeting with Mr. Putin.

The patience paid off, as Mr. Putin approved a plan to invest about $700 million in Rusal’s IPO through VEB, the state bank. Though the deal would give the government only a 3% stake, people close to it say it will be a huge boost to the public offering.

To make it possible, the government had to approve special rules allowing the investment, made with earnings from money the Kremlin earmarked for pensions. Russia’s finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, hailed the deal as a good one for the government and a step to ensure that control at Rusal stayed with Mr. Deripaska. After the sale of 10.6% of Rusal’s shares near the end of January, Mr. Deripaska’s stake will fall to about 48% from 53% but he will remain in control.

A last-minute hangup delayed things. Regulators in Hong Kong, where the IPO is taking place, demanded assurances Rusal wouldn’t be bankrupted by the $4.5 billion loan from VEB, the state bank, when it comes due in October 2010. Another Russian state-controlled bank came to the rescue. OAO Sberbank offered to refinance the loan for four more years, and is considering buying shares in the IPO as well.

Gregory L. White / Alexander Kolyandr

普京与俄罗斯寡头 危机中的互助组

俄罗斯联合铝业CEO奥列格•德里帕斯卡与总理普京正在视察一家汽车组装厂
由于背负大量债务,奥列格•德里帕斯卡(Oleg Deripaska)曾似乎是最有可能在一年前的金融危机中落马的俄罗斯大亨。而现在,他基本上已可保住其规模庞大企业王国的大部分业务,这要感谢俄罗斯政府的救助以及外国放贷机构的手下留情。

一个月前,德里帕斯卡签署了推迟偿还74亿美元外国贷款的协议。本周,他又开始了旗下核心企业──铝业巨头UC Rusal的首次公开募股(IPO)筹备工作。

一家实力雄厚的国有银行已承诺会购买UC Rusal的股份,而这家银行的董事长就是俄罗斯总理普京(Vladimir Putin)。

德里帕斯卡的经历凸显了俄罗斯商界寡头与普京间那种奇异的共生关系。普京曾威胁说要将这一寡头“阶级”消灭。他的经历也有助于解释,严重依赖石油收入的普京政权是如何渡过这场金融和经济危机的,这一危机曾似乎威胁到普京政权的根基。

当本次危机在2008年爆发时,俄罗斯的商界精英们曾普遍担心,克里姆林宫会利用大亨们的债务困境从他们手里夺取优质资产。一位大亨当时曾说,这场危机有可能导致“财产的大规模重新分配”。但实际情况却是,虽然西方国家的政府救助有时是以将股东权益归零为代价的,但俄罗斯政府迄今为止却一直在小心保护亿万富翁的利益,这些人往往掌控着某一行业。

政府顾问们说,虽然俄罗斯许多人预计会出现企业破产和国有化浪潮,但政府却认定,这种做法太具破坏性,因此不值得冒险尝试。让忠于政府的商界寡头不致落马可以减少失业,从而可以起到遏制金融危机政治影响的作用。相应地,这些富豪们也有义务不时在国有电视媒体上充当政府的替罪羊。一位了解UC Rusal公司情况的人士说,普京“出于保持权力的考虑,需要各式各样的寡头”。

随普京出访

虽然普京致力于建立国有企业,并对俄罗斯富豪们严加指责,但他却依赖这些人来经营俄罗斯从苏联继承来的许多工业企业。在本次危机爆发前,德里帕斯卡等俄罗斯最有活力的富豪已经成了俄罗斯经济扩张的代表人物,他们到全球各地大肆收购资产。自那以来,这些大亨们已经为俄罗斯政府主导的经济体系发挥了资本主义发动机的作用。

德里帕斯卡与克里姆林宫究竟是怎样一种关系目前尚不清楚。虽然双方都说这纯粹是一种商业关系,但据熟悉德里帕斯卡的人说,他与俄罗斯政府关系良好,可以直接接触到普京和其他政府高官。

当普京和俄罗斯总统梅德韦杰夫(Dmitry Medvedev)出国访问时,随行的商界代表团里常有德里帕斯卡的身影。这位42岁的亿万富翁一直是2014年索契冬奥会等俄罗斯政府所支持项目的重要投资者。他由于出手挽救OAO GAZ汽车制造厂和一家飞机生产商等苏联时代遗留下来的大企业,而在自己的功劳簿上记下了一笔。

与其他没有落马的商界寡头一样,德里帕斯卡有意避免参与独立的政治活动。多年来,普京以降的俄罗斯官员们一直在劝说美国取消禁止向德里帕斯卡发放赴美签证的规定。但除了德里帕斯卡去年在美国联邦调查局安排下被特批赴美那一次,俄罗斯官员们的这一努力都未取得成效。美国官员说,他们担心德里帕斯卡与有组织犯罪活动有牵连。UC Rusal上周在其IPO文件中披露,加拿大也曾基于一项针对“被控犯罪“的法律,两度拒绝向德里帕斯卡发放签证。德里帕斯卡否认自己与犯罪行为有任何关联,他也从未受到过刑事起诉。

德里帕斯卡在为一起正于伦敦审理的案件作证时说,上世纪90年代,几名前副手曾强迫他支付数亿美元,以“保护”他的铝业务。其他证人已作证说,德里帕斯卡一直与那几名据他说曾强迫其付款的人保持着友好关系。此案的原告是德里帕斯卡的前副手米哈伊尔•查尼(Mikhail Cherney)。据他说,德里帕斯卡是他的合伙人,并欠着他UC Rusal公司13%的股份;德里帕斯卡不认同这一说法。

娶高官女儿为妻

1991年苏联解体后的乱世中,铝业是最赚钱的行业之一。到90年代末之前,德里帕斯卡已经控制了铝业的很大一块。就在2000年普京接替叶利钦(Boris Yeltsin)成为俄罗斯总统前后,德里帕斯卡的帝国开始扩展到汽车、航空、建筑和金融业。2001年,他娶了叶利钦手下政府高官的女儿尤马舍娃(Polina Yumasheva)为妻。德里帕斯卡说,他没从自己的婚姻中得到政治利益或商业利益。

德里帕斯卡买下了他在Rusal的合伙人手中的股份。由于金属价格不断上涨、税费较低,Rusal有着充裕的现金流。通过从外资银行贷款,德里帕斯卡的帝国总共借了近300亿美元的债。

不过金融危机使他和其他巨头用作贷款担保的资产价值严重缩水。放贷机构纷纷要求他们提供更多抵押品,而这种追加保证金的要求是他们无法满足的。

债权人拿走了德里帕斯卡从加拿大汽车部件生产商Magna International Inc.收购的20%股权。Rusal还面临失去在市场高点时买进的OAO Norilsk Nickel的25%权益。曾经抢着向他提供贷款的外资银行如今都态度强硬。银行家说,其中有些在本国受到救助的外国银行不敢被人看成对外国客户随便放贷。

与此同时,在英国,德里帕斯卡也成了争论的焦点;人们纷纷猜测,当保守党政治家去他在科夫海上的游艇拜访他时,是否要求他提供资助。双方都对此予以否认。

受到重重债务的重压,寡头们恳求政府提供帮助。官员们表示赞同,担心战略资产会被外资银行所把持。在银行还款截止日期前几天,俄罗斯国有银行Vneshekonombank(简称VEB)向Rusal提供了45亿美元贷款,以便让它偿还外资银行的贷款。普京是VEB的董事长。该行还向其他寡头提供了贷款。

企业领袖担心,上述举措可能会在不为人知的情况下将这些企业收归国有。这笔贷款期限只有一年。人们担心的是,如果贷款无法在到期前偿还,VEB将没收抵押品。德里帕斯卡匆忙与另外一个曾经与他就Norilsk的控制权发生冲突的巨头“停战”。知情人士说,他的目的是避免政府用双方冲突作借口,获得对这家镍企的控制。

随着金属价格继续下跌,德里帕斯卡的帝国看来最容易被债权人没收。德里帕斯卡的一个密友回忆说,曾建议他把一切都抛给政府,自己清闲地呆上三年。相反,德里帕斯卡不屈不挠地努力拯救自己的企业。他重又当上了多年前放弃的Rusal首席执行长的职位,忙着降低成本。他没有理会以极低价格出售资产的提议。

国有金属巨头?政府说不

1月份,他和其他几位陷入困境的寡头提出了将其资产合并成一家部分国有的金属巨头的想法。政府对此不感兴趣。官员们说,政府认为,在这些企业持有少数股权不会带来什么好处,而全盘接管会威胁到与政府有关系的各企业家族之间脆弱的政治平衡。

权力很大的副总理、支持政府加大控制的谢钦(Igor Sechin)后来在采访中说,谁也没有从别人那里拿走什么。他笑着说,德里帕斯卡能力强、聪明、受过良好教育、全球知名度很高,让他干去吧。

相反,政府把包括GAZ在内的德里帕斯卡名下的数家企业列入了等待政府救助的名单。尽管俄罗斯官员说,这不是对寡头的救助;分析人士却说,实际上就是救助。德里帕斯卡否认了他接受了救助的说法。

对政府来说,保护就业是个关键问题。失业率在攀升,导致人们担心会发生社会动荡。春季之前,国有电视台在不断报导公司城中裁员和欠薪工人的事,彰显出工厂主没能照顾好员工。

在圣彼得堡附近的小镇皮卡廖沃,工人们堵在一条公路上,抗议裁员和工厂停供热水。德里帕斯卡只是在皮卡廖沃拥有工厂的三位大亨之一,但国家电视台大都将矛头指向了他。

普京“突访”皮卡廖沃

6月上旬,普京“突访”皮卡廖沃。电视报道上,德里帕斯卡像个犯了错的小学生,普京命令他签订了一份让工厂重新开工的合同,然后又要德里帕斯卡把笔还给他。

在强调要让工厂重新开工时,普京对德里帕斯卡和其他大亨说,如果你们不能自己达成一致,那么我们就不管你们,工厂还是要开工。媒体评论家开始谈起德里帕斯卡的职业生涯是不是马上就要结束。

电视台没有播出的是,德里帕斯卡在扮演普京“民粹戏”中的替罪羊一角时,也得到了丰厚的回报。就在当周,克里姆林宫原则同意将其45亿美元的贷款展期一年。不久,有关部门又批准了帮助GAZ重组的6亿美元补贴。

另外在幕后,普京还展开游说,希望达成以俄罗斯政府为支持的收购通用汽车(General Motors)旗下的欧宝(Opel AG)的交易。这项交易将惠及德里帕斯卡的GAZ工厂。德里帕斯卡后来说,皮卡廖沃发生的事情仅仅是一场误会。

与外国债权人谈判时,德里帕斯卡倒是显示出了自信。在贷款重组谈判中,他拒绝让步。7月底,各银行原则上同意了一项协议,根据该协议,Rusal公司偿还其巨额贷款的期限后推了四年。

德里帕斯卡9月份对一家俄罗斯报纸表示,承受的批评越多,与债权人达成一致也就越容易。

以普京为董事长的国有银行VEB也来帮了忙。10月份,它将45亿美元的贷款正式延期至2010年10月。虽然这已经足够卸下Rusal公司承受的重压(作为贷款条件,该公司继续持有它在Norilsk的股权),但德里帕斯卡当初提出的要求还要更多。在《华尔街日报》见到的一封致普京的信中,德里帕斯卡曾要求贷款展期四年并降低利率。

普京的一位发言人说,政府向大企业显示的灵活性“存在着合理的限度”。

去年年中,随着全球市场的复苏,Rusal重启了2007年搁置的IPO计划。

耐心获得回报

德里帕斯卡通过美国联邦调查局拿到特别入境许可后,在8月份和10月份到访美国。他与华尔街谈了IPO计划,并前往底特律为达成一项有关欧宝的协议而展开游说。(最后通用汽车没有出售欧宝。)

虽然一些美国投资银行对Rusal公司的IPO存有戒心,但这家公司寻找承销商并不费力。10月份德里帕斯卡陪同普京访华,达成出售Rusal铝产品的协议,并推销它的股票。

11月中旬的一天,在莫斯科郊区普京住所外,德里帕斯卡在普京办公室外的一张沙发上坐了几个小时,一面发着短信,一面等着与普京会面。

耐心获得了回报。普京批准了由国有银行VEB出资约7亿美元投资Rusal公司IPO的计划。接近这项交易的人士说,虽然政府只将得到3%的股权,但对Rusal的IPO计划却是很大的支持。

政府还需要批准特别法规来为这笔投资放行,因为投资所动用的是被克里姆林宫标为养老金的资金实现的利润。俄罗斯财政部长库德林(Alexei Kudrin)称,这笔投资对政府有利,同时会保证Rusal控制权继续掌握在德里帕斯卡手中。在Rusal公司10.6%的股权于1月底售出后,德里帕斯卡的股份将从53%下降到大约48%,但他仍然将掌握控股权。

Rusal公司的IPO在最后关头出现障碍,因而被推迟。IPO上市地香港的监管机构要求,Rusal要保证在VEB 45亿美元的贷款在2010年10月到期时,公司不会破产。俄罗斯另外一家国家控制的银行施予了援手。OAO Sberbank为这笔贷款提供为期四年的再融资,并且也在考虑在IPO中购买股票。

Gregory L. White / Alexander Kolyandr

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