Frontline World

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


Special Update
Oct 28, 2003

Just five days before FRONTLINE/World's broadcast of "Rich in Russia," Mikhail Khodorkovsky was seized at gunpoint by Russian federal agents. read more

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 after decades of communist rule, it was a monumental event full of hope and new possibilities. The Cold War ended, and political, economic and military alliances that had shaped the world for nearly a half-century were reformulated practically overnight. The Soviet Union's fiercest enemy, the United States, hailed the fall as a victory for democracy and evidence of capitalism's superiority over socialism. For the majority of Russians, the transition to a market system was painful, chaotic and anything but democratic. Amidst the confusion of the country's reorganization, however, a few shrewd businessmen rose to the top. In just a few short years, Russia's crown jewels became the private possessions of a small group of men who have come to be known as the Russian oligarchs.

Unlike the 19th-century American robber barons who built their monopolies from the wilderness, Russia's oligarchs amassed their control and wealth from existing enterprises. With few exceptions, Russia's oligarchs built nothing new. The men had varying backgrounds. Some were factory managers who during Russia's transition forced their employees to sell them their shares in the once-state-owned enterprises; others were senior government officials while yet others were underground businessmen on the margins of society. But all shared a common thirst for money and power, the latter of which included establishing -- or maintaining -- connections to the political elite in Russia, a country where the rule of law is still sometimes trumped by the rule of in-laws.

In Russia today, just a handful of oligarchs control 85 percent of the value of the country's leading private companies. And with their multibillion-dollar fortunes, they are joining the top ranks of the world's wealthiest people. Meet a few of Russia's most powerful and influential business tycoons.

Next: Roman Abramovich - Stealth Oligarch

By Kelly Whalen
Kelly Whalen is a freelance writer and documentary producer based in Oakland, Calif.

Producer: Angela Morgenstern; Designed by: Susan Harris, Fluent Studios; see full web credits.

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


back to top