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.
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.
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.
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
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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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