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FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Best of 2012

Putin's Gazprom Problem

How the Kremlin Accidentally Liberalized Russia's Natural Gas Market

Just four years ago, the Western press commonly touted Russia's state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom as Vladimir Putin's premier instrument of power. Indeed, the $160 billion firm controls several mighty subsidiaries, including oil and power companies and groups that run Russia's export pipelines. It has the ability to leave millions in Europe in the cold, as it demonstrated when it turned off the taps to Ukraine in 2006 and 2009. And it even owns several media outlets, including NTV, a popular television station that was once a vehement critic of Moscow but is now a (somewhat reluctant) advocate of Putin's domestic agenda. In total, Gazprom's profits constitute about ten percent of Russia's GDP. Perhaps that is why the company -- which even has its own anthem -- is considered a bellwether of Russian power.

Yet, as Vladimir Putin is sworn in this week for another six-year term as president, the energy giant is

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