‘Russia is poor’ remark causes heated row between father of Russian capitalism & FM spokeswoman

Maria Zakharova attacked controversial veteran economist, Anatoly Chubais, over his claim that Russia is poor. She said the man, who oversaw the country’s switch to capitalism, should know how it happened.

Russia is “one of the most energy-wasting countries in the world” and electricity prices must be increased to stop this, Chubais, a key member of President Boris Yeltisn’s team in the early 1990s and the current head of Rusnano state owned-company, said at an economic forum last week.

However, he specified that “Russia is a poor country. A significant part of the population lives poorly or very poorly, so raising prices right off the bat would be wrong.”

It was a strong statement from the man regarded as the father of modern capitalism in Russia as he came up with a swift, but painful switch to market economy after the fall of the USSR. The problems currently encountered by the country are seen by many as the consequences of the mistakes made by Chubais back then.

Zakharova, whose job is to defend Russia from attacks coming from aboard, was so outraged by the statement that she decided to comment on an internal issue. And she didn’t mince words.

“Russia is a rich country,” she proclaimed in a Facebook post before asking Chubais a very inconvenient question:

But after serving as Deputy Prime Minister on two occasions under Yeltsin, heading the Unified Energy System of Russia and occupying a host of other important positions, Chubais is no stranger to inconvenient questions.

Chief of the Russian presidential administration, Anatoly Chubais, meets president Boris Yeltsin in 1996. © Sputnik / Dmitryi Donskoy

The red-headed political veteran issued a wordy response to Zakharova’s jab on his Facebook account.

“I got a chance to work in four or five governments… and in none of them it was acceptable to offend or call to account their predecessors. It was also not acceptable to sink to the level of populist rhetoric and replace a serious discussion with childish arguments,” he wrote.

The 63-year-old then defended his policies as part of the cabinet, reminding his opponent that “when she started her career, the economy was growing in the country, the ruble was convertible, the inflation sharply decreased and the food deficit was eradicated completely.”

But Zakharova used the argument as a perfect platform for a counterattack as she informed Chubais that she started working in 1998 when Russia was hit by the harshest economic crisis and the ruble defaulted.

“I’m shaking when I recall your so-called ‘economic achievements,'” the spokeswoman wrote, adding that she still wanted her principal question answered.

At that point, Chubais apparently realized that it was an argument he was unlikely to win. In a short post, the man specified that he wasn’t talking about 1998, but about 2003 when, according to his data, Zakharova began working for the government.

“When it comes to falsifying facts – you’re the best in your generation. Therefore, I give up in advance,” he wrote, thus leaving the question which started the discussion without a response.

Anatoly Chubais launches a new line of nanoceramic products as head of Rusnano in 2015. © Sputnik / Alexandr Kryazhev

The internet almost unanimously backed Zakharova during the argument, with one commentator expressing regret that Chubais was questioned by the representative of the Foreign Ministry, but not the Ministry of Interior.

The people recalled the horror they felt during the 1998 crisis when all of their saving disappeared in an instant and wondered where the money from the privatization of government property, which was spearheaded by the controversial economist in early 1990s, had gone.

READ MORE: Leftist Lawmaker demands investigation into reform mastermind Chubais

Chubais’s work in the government and in charge of the national electric power holding company has not only made him one of the most despised politicians in the country, but a hero of folklore jokes as well.

One popular joke was that “Chubais has switched off the light at the end of the tunnel for non-payment” while another quotes him as saying “Russia must be a strong country, I’ll teach it not to be afraid of the dark.” Of course, these jokes are just a few of the G-rated ones.

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