CEO of Russian fish processing plant pretends to be journalist to talk with Vladimir Putin

Published on
December 19, 2017

An annual press conference held by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 14 December took an unexpected turn when he was surprised by a question from a fishing company executive posing as a journalist.

Mikhail Zub, 60, got lucky when Putin pointed out at him among 1,600 journalists in attendance for a question. 

Zub, the chairman of board of directors and co-owner of a fish processing plant in the region of Murmansk, admit confessed to Putin that he was not a reporter.

“I’ve deceived you a bit,” he told Putin. “I’m not a journalist, I’m a chairperson of the Murmansk fish processing plant. I got here illegally, but I want [the fishing industry] to develop.” 

In his emotional four-minute speech, Mikhail Zub voiced major problems the fish processing segment is facing in Russia: unattractive conditions for attracting investment, a lack of logistics infrastructure, an absence of state support, and other issues that Zub said were “of critical importance” for his business. Zub had summarized all his thoughts in a 400-page report, which took to the press conference and later handed over to the president. 

“Fish must be cheap for people,” Zub said. “The price of one kilogram of cod must be RUB 100 [USD 1.71, EUR 1.44], not RUB 350 [USD 5.97,  EUR 5.05] as it is now,” he said to end his speech, which was greeted by applause from the crowd at the event.

Putin’s reaction was rather positive and even warm. He suggested not getting deep into details as that would hardly be of interest for the audience. In response to Zub’s proposals, he said that the entrepreneur will be invited to take part in business meetings on the subjects he mentioned during the speech. 

“My sympathies are with you today,” he said to the “journalist.”

After his performance, Zub became an instant celebrity in Russia and was interviewed by numerous media outlets. He asked his “colleagues” not to turn him into a “hero” and said that the press conference was the only way he could deliver his thoughts to the president. Regarding Putin’s response, Zub said he was “absolutely satisfied with it” and repeated that “fish must be cheap – the price must be compatible with consumers’ purchasing power.”

Putin’s press conference, held regularly in December, is not just a major media event, with journalists coming from all the country to attend, but also a big political occurrence, which many reporters use to have the president pay attention to issues particular to their areas. Sometimes it looks like a show, which reflects the nature of political leadership in Russia, where a request directly sent to the head of state can sometimes be the only solution to a problem.

Ilia Shestakov, chairman of the Russia's Federal Agency for Fisheries, said in an interview with RBC business website that Zub had previously applied for a state investment in a proposed processing plant, but that the project was rejected due to a review finding that the biggest part of the investment was to come from the state’s budget. 

“Though, the agency is always ready to meet with the entrepreneur and open to new ideas and projects,” Shestakov said.

Contributing Editor reporting from Saint Petersburg, Russia

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