Our interview with financial whiz Viktor Gerashchenko took place in genuine field conditions. He was in a rush to an important meeting, so we started asking him questions in our company car right in the thick of Moscow traffic...
"It's not a conspiracy..."
KP: Viktor Vladimirovich, what steps would you be taking now if you were the chairman of the Central Bank?
Gerashchenko:I would speak with newspapers, radio and TV channels more, and explain the situation. In the days since the crisis began, I haven't heard anyone from the Central Bank speak to the public — not once. Being distrustful of officials is a tradition of our people. And when they remain silent, this distrust arises all the more. But if you look at the facts and figures, you see that foreigners are taking their money out of Russia because their problems are bigger than ours. They need to tighten the reins, too. Nonetheless, we have sufficient funds to keep our banks in order. Now it looks like another issue altogether. And as our finance minister [Aleksey Kudrin] said, if you can refer to him as "our..."
KP: You don't consider Kudrin to be one of us?
Gerashchenko:Well he's from Saint Petersburg and not Moscow... No, I'm kidding. That's not the issue. So... Kudrin says our budget will endure even if the price on oil falls to $50 per barrel. And this is of no small significance.
KP: Meaning, if the price on oil hovers around $50 per barrel, things don't look too bad... But if the price falls further, it's a turn for the worse?
Gerashchenko:I wasn't deeply engaged in the oil issue. It's not my cup of tea. I just hope Kudrin is speaking responsibly about the crisis. But the behavior of the people is also inexplicable at times. Right now, it's impossible to get a safety deposit box at a lot of banks. They're all in use!
We need to get out and hurry up here. They're building a crossover on Belorusskaya.
KP: You're an experienced driver! What do you usually drive, Viktor Vladimirovich?
Gerashchenko: A Toyota. Prado, I think...
KP: Almost all the vehicles at the Central Bank during your time there were Toyotas. Is that where you picked up the car?
Gerashchenko: It's mine... But getting anywhere quickly is rare. There are too many cars. It's just a mess in Moscow.
KP: Do policemen pull you over?
Gerashchenko: Why would they pull me over if I don't break the rules? Well, only on occasion...
KP: Sometimes artists are stopped for their autographs. Does that happen with you?
Gerashchenko: Not too long ago a young policeman pulled me over. I tried to pass a long line of traffic by driving along the tramway. He said: "Hello, Viktor Vladimirovich. So what's going to happen to the dollar?"
KP: What did you tell him?
Gerashchenko: "Nothing is going to happen," I said. "There will still be 100 cents to the dollar as always." "They say they'll introduce a new kind of dollar," he said. "Really?!" I replied.
KP: What do you think? Could this entire crisis be a mere conspiracy by the U.S. to destroy Russia and Europe?
Gerashchenko: I don't think it's a conspiracy. It's the result of poor U.S. policy making and a harum-scarum view of things. They got the whole world hooked on their dollar... If you have $10 in your pocket, then it means you're crediting the U.S. economy. As a result, the U.S. lost its competitive power. Even the American people are switching to small, economic cars and bicycles at the moment, meaning they were living beyond their means. This goes for the country and government, as well as the people. They were living on account of the rest of the world. Things went belly up in the housing section, too. And for Americans, the home is the foundation of their life.
KP: So it's not a conspiracy?
Gerashchenko: The foundation is collapsing and slipping right out from under their feet. And not because the U.S. wanted to pull a con game on everyone. No. This is what the great German [philosopher Karl] Marx wrote about — the recurrence of development...
Make me a vodka and tonic [Gerashchenko said to the waiter. We found half an hour to stop by a Moscow restaurant to moisten our clay...]
Waiter: We can't. Our alcohol license expired.
Gerashchenko: Then I'll have a beer, nonalcoholic. Funny. It's like in the 1990s. They told me in one glitzy restaurant once: "We don't have champagne. But you can go buy beer at the kiosk outside and drink it in here..."
KP: Viktor Vladimirovich, can the U.S. freeze the foreign accounts of our oligarchs and civil servants?
Gerashchenko: On what basis?
KP: Anything is possible...
Gerashchenko: An account can only be frozen on suspicion that the laws of their country were broken. Or at the request of our country, if the money was removed, for example, without taxes being paid. But simply because they belong to Russians? Impossible!
KP: But they could say we're undemocratic and, wham, freeze our accounts.
Gerashchenko: All the same, though, I'm judging from something else... I think that as the crisis is impartial and unrelated to any subversion, it's unlikely they'll start shaking around people's money — even criminal groups. There's still tons of money in U.S. banks from the narcotics mafia. It hasn't gone anywhere.
"My wife is principled..."
KP: If Playboy magazine asked you for an interview, would you agree?
Gerashchenko: Probably not. It's not a magazine that I looked at and purchased regularly. But one evening when I still worked at a bank in Frankfurt, I called and said: "Find me Playboy magazine, only in English." Because I didn't know German. The driver, who we called "gestapo," brought me the magazine and said: "Here's your Playboy in English." He thought I wanted the magazine because of the women inside. But there was actually a serious interview in the issue with a banker.
KP: And you must have flipped through the pages chop-chop...?
Gerashchenko: What do girls have to do with anything? You want my wife to do me in two years before our golden anniversary?
KP: Your wife is the jealous type?
Gerashchenko: No. She's principled.
Russian version: Виктор ГЕРАЩЕНКО: «США доигрались! А мы - еще нет»
Read the next installment... tomorrow