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.
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
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
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
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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