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‘Ex-Stasi agent’ heads aluminium giant Rusal

Alledged former member of East Germany's Stasi security service and old KGB friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Matthias Warnig, was on Monday appointed chairman of the world's largest aluminium producer, Rusal.

'Ex-Stasi agent' heads aluminium giant Rusal
Photo: DPA

Warnig’s promotion marks only the latest step up the ladder of major Russian business for the former Dresdner Bank Group member.

The 57-year-old already serves as managing director of the Nord Stream AG’s operator of Russia’s new Baltic Sea natural gas pipeline to Germany that was unveiled last year.

He is also the chairman of the Transneft state oil pipeline monopoly and board member of the Rosneft energy giant as well as two major banks and smaller companies.

Warnig replaces interim chief Barry Chung at the seat of power of tycoon Oleg Deripaska’s major holding – a company in crisis because of raging disputes over how to handle more than $10 billion of debt incurred in the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

“Mr Warnig has significant public company experience having served on the board of several leading international companies,” Rusal said in a statement.

“He has an excellent knowledge of Russian and international business and an in-depth understanding of the financial, energy and commodity industries.”

Deripaska’s En+ Group through which he controls Rusal pointed to the unanimous boardroom vote as “an example of constructive cooperation” that follows the resignation of former powerful board chair Viktor Vekselberg.

It was Vekselberg’s shock decision to step down in March that originally exposed the extent to which Russia’s richest men disagreed over ways to manage production of nine percent of a metal that goes into everything from autos to planes.

Vekselberg at the time said Rusal was in “deep crisis.” Deripaska then went on to sell top oversees production units as a cost-cutting measure that sparked even more displeasure from minority shareholders.

The appointment should now make it easier for Rusal to maintain close terms with the Kremlin at a point when it is trying to stave off disintegration.

Warnig has long been reputed to have special personal ties to Putin despite his refusal to go into the subject in any great detail.

The strongman leader has seen several of his old school friends and acquaintances claim top posts in business and government since first rising to power in 1999.

Critics condemn this as cronyism but Putin himself – viewed as the ultimate arbiter in Russian business disputes – has dismissed all charges.

Warnig has been linked to Putin repeatedly by both Russian and Western media over the years.

One former Dresdner Bank executive told The Wall Street Journal in 2005 that Warnig had alluded to his Stasi connections but that German investigators eventually dropped the case.

The Wall Street Journal said at the time that Warnig and Putin, a former Soviet intelligence agent who was based in Dresden, jointly recruited East Germans to work for the KGB.

Moscow’s Kommersant business daily reported that Warnig became a Stasi major before retiring in 1989 in the months preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall and before switching his focus on Russian business.

The official biography released by Rusal featured a gap in Warnig’s career between his university graduation in 1981 and 1993.

The Wall Street Journal said he opened the first Dresdner Bank in Putin’s native city of Saint Petersburg in 1991 and in 2008 was appointed to the board of Bank Rossiya – a lender founded by Putin’s friends.

AFP/jcw

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RUSSIA

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

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The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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