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Moscow - Rich in Russia, October 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Rich in Russia"

The Oligarchs

Money, Power and Politics

Examining the Young and the Restless

Government, Population, Economy

Life in Russia Today and the Transition to Capitalism




How to Make a Billion Dollars
Roman Abramovich Vagit Alekperov Boris Berezovsky Oleg Deripaska Mikhail Fridman Vladimir Gusinsky Mikhail Khodorkovsky Vladimir Potanin

Vladimir Gusinsky Vladimir Gusinsky - Media Magnate
Vladimir Gusinksy, 51, emerged from the underground economy of the era of the Soviet Union, like many of Russia's oligarchs. But among this group, Gusinsky was unique: Much of his wealth was created from scratch instead of from taking over former state properties. Born in 1952, he was the only child of a family who experienced the pain of Soviet repression firsthand. Gusinksy's maternal grandfather was shot during Stalin's purges, and his grandmother spent 10 years in a Soviet-style labor camp. He lived with his parents in a one-room flat in Moscow, but Gusinksy "grew up on the street," as he later put it. He attended the Gubkin Institute of Petrochemicals and Natural Gas but failed his classes, so he joined the army. Later, Gusinsky attended Gitis, a school for theatrical directors, and became a theatrical producer in the provinces. He also drove a cab and traded on Moscow's black-market street scene. In 1987, with just $1,000, he opened a women's clothing cooperative, one of Russia's first state-approved cooperatives. Two years later, he opened MOST, a consulting co-op for foreign investors in Russia, which gradually branched out into media, ultimately becoming Media-MOST. In 1993, Gusinsky launched his first independent newspaper, Sevodnya, which put him on his way to becoming "Russia's Rupert Murdoch." Using connections from his earlier days, Gusinsky called upon Deputy Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov for help in gaining control of the television station Channel 4. With Russia's war in Chechnya just beginning, Gusinsky's station was critical of President Boris Yeltsin and his policies. In 1996, however, when a Communist Party presidential candidate presented a real threat to Yeltsin's reelection, the rising media magnate suspended all criticism. After Yeltsin won the reelection, Gusinsky was awarded the country's first private television network, NTV, and his media conglomerate, Media-MOST, expanded to include a satellite communications network, a series of radio stations and magazines, such as Itogi, jointly published with Newsweek. By 1999, Gusinsky reverted to his critical attitude toward the Yeltsin government and carried on his network a series of reports about the Yeltsin family and friends running the Kremlin. Yeltsin did nothing to force Gusinsky off air, but President Vladimir Putin was another story. Putin waged a string of attacks against Gusinsky, who now lives in exile.

Estimated Worth:

Major Holdings:
While Gusinsky was in exile, the state gas monopoly Gazprom seized control of Gusinsky's NTV, valued at $1 billion. A Russian court also ordered the liquidation of Media-MOST and gave the gas giant 25 percent plus one share of all companies once owned by Media-MOST. Gazprom also took control of and closed Gusinsky's first newspaper Sevodnya and fired and locked out the staff of news magazine Igoti.

Political Connections:
Gusinsky was connected to Moscow's former deputy mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who helped Gusinsky grow his MOST Bank and gain control of key media enterprises. Gusinsky knew Luzhkov when the former deputy mayor was in charge of handling Moscow's cooperative licenses. The two became friends and even toured the United States together, courting corporate giants who wanted to enter the emerging Russian market.

Despite Gusinsky's critically daring media coverage of the Kremlin, for a time he was considered part of Yeltsin's inner circle. He was a member of the Big Seven, a group of oligarchs who backed Yeltsin's reelection campaign, and he even lent Yeltsin his chief aide to handle the president's media efforts.

New Plays:
Since leaving Russia, Gusinsky has been active in religious and humanitarian causes within and outside Russia, including the Russian Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress.

Previous to his exile, Gusinsky lived in Moscow and owned a villa in the southern Spanish province of Cadiz. Today, he lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and in Greenwich, Connecticut.

On his NTV network, Gusinsky broadcast a satiric puppet show, Kukly, that ridiculed the Russian political and business establishment. Putin tried to terminate the program, but Gusinsky persisted. When NTV was critical first of Putin's slow reaction to the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk, then of the government's inability to provide heat and electricity for freezing residents in Russia's Far East, Putin stepped up his anti-Gusinsky campaign. Media-MOST's headquarters and offices were raided more than 30 times by everyone from masked tax police to deputies of the prosecutor general. In June 2000, Gusinsky was arrested on charges of embezzlement and spent three days in a Moscow jail. In 2001, before a Spanish high court threw out the case, he was confined to house arrest in his Spanish villa for several months, on fraud charges brought by the Russia government. This year, Gusinsky has been arrested again, this time in Athens on an international warrant for similar charges. Gusinsky was released, and a Greek court rejected Russia's request for extradition.

Next: Mikhail Khodorkovsky - Billionaire Industrialist

Previous: Mikhail Fridman - Oil Tycoon

Photo Credits
Photo of Vagit Alekperov - Photographer/Getty Images
Photo of Vladimir Potanin - Photographer/Getty Images
Photo of Roman Abramovich - AP / Wide World Photos
Photo of Mihail Fridman - AP / Wide World Photos
Photo of Vladimir Gusinsky - AP / Wide World Photos

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