Frontline World


Moscow, RICH IN RUSSIA, October 2003



Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story below, including responses from the reporters.

Peter Linn - Chicago, Illinois
A thought-provoking piece on the oligarchs of Russia. While the situation is far from perfect in Russia, it overall seems to me that the country is on the right path (but challenges no doubt lie ahead). It's hard to imagine any easy means of establishing private property out of thin air, so the fact that wheels are even in motion is encouraging in itself.

Ruben Joseph - Puyallup, Washington
I truly enjoyed the story, " Rich In Russia". Sabrina Tavernise's report is one I could relate, too. I visited Russia in 2000 and had seen first-hand what the New Russia was like. I would venture to say that [while] her account of what she reported was some[what] watered down, I'm sure every word she writes is under a microscope and yes there are powers that be that are very strong and young and are making their way up the social ladder, and building their own little army to gain power and wealth.

Sridhar Chilimuri - Cedar Grove, New Jersey
Disturbing! Is Russia ripe for another revolution? Perhaps they should learn from India. Capitalism made 350 million Indians richer not just ten. The key is gradual introduction of open markets.

Anonymous - North Platte, Nebraska
Thank you very much for the interesting story, "Rich in Russia." I have a pen-pal in Russia, and recently coordinated a Russian reporter to speak at my college. Much of what Ms. Tavernise said sounded familiar, yet it was good to get the visual perspective of it all! Thanks.

Bailey Jepson - Pacific Palisades, California
Oligarchs, schmoligarchs, these guys are nothing more elevated than kleptocrats - thieves adept at working the bureaucracy.

And just how sorry is that ex-pat for the many back in Russia who are poor?

For a little historical perspective, the last few hundred years have seen the Russian masses declared slaves in their own country by their own rulers, disposable objects in mass social engineering experiments and cogs in dull gray wheels. From these latter heights they are now fallen. And as the one agro-tycoon pointed out, they will not abide the excessive disparity long before taking matters into their own hands - and Russia can't take another revolution.

As to whether oligarchs and tycoons are alike, they are surely more like each other than they are like you and me. Oh yes, another thing that unites them (and which flaw is not perfected by the passage of time): "Behind every great fortune, a great crime." It's getting harder and harder to find much nobility in anybody's aristocracy.

Anonymous - Napa, California
Enjoyed the story albeit the camera lingered far too much on the interviewer (lovely as she is. However, I would have liked to know how many of these "oligarchs" (charming name for thieves, no?) are Jewish. Nary a word in the report, which is unfortunate as some of us believe that much of what triggers Putin's crackdown is an underlying anti-Semitism...

Responding to Anonymous in Napa, California:

Anonymous - New York, New York
At least five of the 8 (oligarchs) are Jewish, and there is quite a lot of concern about the underlying anti-Semitism in the Russian government. However, there is an even more important issue: (the) current Russian president is a former KGB agent, raised on the principles of Communism and Socialism as well as total control by government. What can be expected of him?

As far as these oligarchs go, they were given their opportunities by the previous president.


Vilnius Blekaitis - Silver Spring, Maryland
Much thanks to S. Tavernise for a great report; like the Afghan story that preceded it, it was engrossing. Russian oligarchs appear to be no different from American tycoons; both groups arose in a period of extraordinary transformation, the latter arising as America changed from a primarily agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse, the former arising in the tumult of liberation from Soviet rule. Nonetheless, many of our institutions were firmly entrenched at the time that American industrialization took place, especially the rule of law. Though women and minorities certainly were excluded from enjoying all the privileges that our then rather imperfect democracy had to offer, the institutions, e.g., the Supreme Court, which would later guarantee their inclusiveness, were well established. This does not appear to be the case yet in Russia. We must press Putin, for the sake of the Russian people, to abandon the thinking and practices of the old Soviet rulers; intimidation of those who don't share your political views must not be tolerated. As we have learned in the American experience, free expression of ideas benefits both the intellectual and the commercial spheres of society. I suspect Putin is more enamored of the Chinese model of capitalism than the Western one. We should endeavour to show him that that is wrong.

Jim Britton - Springfield, Ohio
Your story on Russia was very good. Having visited Russia many times I really enjoyed your reporting on the lives of the rich. My visits are generally to the average Russian citizen.

Kashif Khalid - New York, New York
A well put together broadcast and such impeccable timing. Business and Politics in Russia...'boiling water.' What lies in store for the Oligarchs of modern day Russia?
Well done.

Jessica A. Bruno - Ridgewood, New Jersey
I really love this. My family gets home delivery of The New York Times, but I never read them or didn't see the first episode of this. Keep up the good work. Thank you.
Respectfully yours,
Jessica A Bruno