To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyzes reviews to verify trustworthiness.
A good insight into Russia and written like a novel. The story of money, power, corruption, murder, Oligarchs, Politicians and Mobsters. Hollywood would have a hard time making a story like this up. It would not be believable. I did not want to put the book down.
The Oligarchs of Russia are a special breed and this excellent book brings them to light. Hoffman excellently details the various men who came tot he fore in the New Russia under Yeltsin. From Mayor Luzhkov to Gusinky, Khordorovsky and Berezovky among others this book paints a wonderful picture of the hustlers, gangsters, politicians and Bankers that recreated Russia in the 1990s, making it mirror more 1920s America then the past soviet empire. This wonderful account details the back story of the various super-rich who came to dominate Russian Industry from Yukos to Aeroflot and the Russian Central Bank, from oil to automobiles. These men started poor, many were of Jewish ancestry and subjected to the prying eyes of the vast soviet bureaucracy. In one oligarchs case he started out selling Bibles on the black market and another pioneered the building of Dacha's over and above his quota for production. A wonderful tale about the horrors of communism, for instance the story of Russia's disgusting massive warehouse for vegetables, and the story of the cowboy capitalists, most of whom are now in prison or under indictment and forced to flee abroad. Seth J. Frantzman
David Hoffman's "The Oligarchs" documents in great detail the rise of 6 businessmen--Aleksandr Smolensky, Yuri Luzhkov, anatoly Chubais, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky--who became the "oligarchs" who shaped the political and economic landscape of the New Russia. They were merely ordinary Russians until the Soviet Union collapsed. So how did a mere handful Russians end up controlling such an epic proportion of Russia's economy and have such great influence in its politics? And how did they manage to rise at Russia's decline? Hoffman's book will answer these questions by piecing together extensive research and interview to create a well-balanced, serious but at the same time, a downright fun and readable book. "The Oligarchs" is a landmark.
The most stunning suggestion in this chronicle of the making of new billionaires in the Yeltsin era is the theory that in his mid-twenties Mikhail Khodorkovsky caused the bankruptcy of the Communist Party. When it was discovered that billions in cash and gold were missing, the treasurer jumped or was thrown from a window. Several weeks later the previous treasurer jumped or was thrown from the same window.
Although the operational details are left to the reader's imagination, we are told that beginning in the late 1980's the young Khodorkovsky set up "amorphous scientific technical" cooperatives that never did any scientific or technical work. Like an alchemist, he manipulated these shells in order to trade non-cash Soviet credits for actual rubles and even hard currencies from the Treasury. The rubles were used to throw lavish parties and to extend Khodorkovsky's network of shells. The hard currencies were deposited in Swiss and other foreign banks. One investment banker at Riggs Valmet Bank said Khodorkovsky had been a client since 1989.
Today Khodorkovsky remains in prison. Boris Berezovsky emigrated in October 2000 a few weeks after Vladimir Gusinsky and two years before Khodorkovsky's arrest. The other Oligarchs have either lowered their profiles in Russia or left the country permanently in fear of prosecution--all except Yuri Luzhkov, Mayor-for-Life of Moscow since June 1992 when Yeltsin appointed him to the position. "As he built his Empire, every storefront and every factory was a potential source of revenue." Luzhkov may not be a billionaire, though his wife, Elena Baturina, a former factory worker, earned 31 billion rubles (over $1 billion, primarily from public contracts) in 2009, according to Forbes. Yet his salary--8 million rubles a year ($270,000)--is unusual among Russian public employees at any level. Luzhkov's Chechen henchmen have been such effective enforcers that President Yeltsin publicly accused him of running a mafia city. He ignored Yeltsin's Kremlin when he wasn't openly battling it. Yet in 1996, it suited both to plaster all of Moscow with posters of smiling Yeltsin and Luzhkov together. (For the 65th anniversary of Victory Day 2010, Luzhkov spoke of putting up posters of Stalin. One can only guess who vetoed that embarrassing idea with the World War II allies participating for the first time.)
This summer while Moscow choked in record heat and thick smoke from raging wildfires, Luzhkov blithely continued his holiday. High profile contract murders go unsolved but if an unwelcome demonstration is organized in Moscow, Luzhkov springs into action. He bulldozes and fences the planned street or park location. This week Triumph Square is fenced to prevent opposition protests there. Luzhkov is the godfather of the city-state that is Moscow.
Befriending Luzhkov was crucial to the success of Vladimir Gusinsky. Failing to make a career in the theater, he became a fixer, helping western businessmen negotiate the unfamiliar maze of bureaucratic Moscow. He set up a bank with the advice of Lehman Brothers after he and Luzhkov toured the US in Lehman's private jet. . One important contribution of this book is the spotlighting of the tutorial provided by George Soros and other American and European investment bankers. From them the young tycoons learned to deal with government "in one crude way: bribery and coercion." It appears that extra-legal appropriation was equally important in building their power networks and fortunes. To keep what they had appropriated, they built private "armies and intelligence agencies..." Force was not the primary method of coercion. The kompromat (compromising evidence) often "...manufactured--using forged documents..." was a preferred tool. It could easily be published or simply revealed to the victim who would comply with any demand to keep the kompromat quiet. Was poisoning Litvinenko just another clever kompromat?
Forbes Editor Paul Klebnikov titled his book about Boris Berezovsky, "Godfather of the Kremlin." He documented Berezovsky's relationship with Chechen gangsters and close proximity to murder victims until Klebnikov himself was murdered one night in 2003 on a Moscow street. Victims included journalists who spotlit unsavory deeds or means of acquiring his wealth, business associates who were in his way or to whom he was indebted and even a flamboyant nuisance like Litvinenko, who depended entirely on Berezovsky for his own and his family's existence. This phenomenon did not end when Berezovsky settled in London. The unlikely death of Badri Pataratsishvili 4 hours after he was with Berezovsky reminded some of the death of 39-year-old Boris Fyodorov, a founding shareholder of one of Berezovsky's companies. No murder charges have ever been filed against him, so they must be a series of coincidences.
Berezovsky is the most visible Oligarch in exile, just as he was the most visible inside Russia in the Yeltsin era. He acquired ownership of the vast Ostankino broadcast television network by promising to turn it into a Yeltsin propaganda machine. He controlled the news coverage to make Yeltsin popular throughout all the Russian time zones, assuring electoral victory if ballot fraud didn't. "By dictating the news coverage, Berezovsky could become a power broker." And Kremlin power broker he became, seeing himself as the ultimate ruler to the point of choosing Prime Ministers and even terminating them. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin learned his fate on Sunday night when Berezovsky predicted the change during a TV interview taped several days earlier at his luxurious dacha. Chernomyrdin was fired the next morning, Monday, March 23, 1998.
Alexander Smolensky had no fancy education, nothing more than a dump truck. Yet somehow he formed a cooperative, Moskva 3. His SBS Agro banking group grew out of Stolichny Bank which he created without knowing anything about banking. Instead of making loans, he engaged in currency speculation and pumped up the value of his bank by owning shares in the other new banks while they owned shares in Stolichny, creating the fictional value. No financial reports were published and his activities were conducted in complete secrecy. In the early 1990's fake avisos from Dagestan and Chechnya ordered Russia's Central Bank to transfer millions of rubles to Stolichny Bank. By the time it was discovered they were fake, $30 million had been transferred. Nevertheless, no charges were brought against Smolensky before he emigrated.
Anatoly Chubais is the odd man out--neither a billionaire nor an exile--but he was once the bureaucrat who made billionaires through his giveaways of Russian national assets. Growing up in a patriotic Soviet family, he only reluctantly gave up Soviet orthodoxy after intense debates with fellow economics students about the shortage economy of socialism.
In the epilogue to this chronicle of the Soviet origins and rise of six prominent men in the Yeltsin era, the author quotes the subsequent President at a 2001 news conference. Putin responded to a question about his former supporter, "Boris Berezovsky--who's that?'
This book traces the rise and in some cases the demise of six of the most cunning and ruthless men the world has experienced in recent times. These men became known as the Russian Oligarchs. They carried out the biggest heist in history but not without the assistance of powerful western money interests and the proponents of laissez-fire capitalism such as some of the major international banks, Wall Street’s richest partnerships, the JP Morgan Bank, Goldman Sachs and well known capitalist adventurers such as George Soros. The Oligarchs manipulated the new capitalist system that had been established upon the death throes of the centralised command economy in the Soviet Union. They ruthlessly accumulated massive wealth by grabbing Russia’s biggest factories, oil companies and mines. The author has done a masterful job in revealing the rise of the Oligarchs who shrouded their activities in secrecy as they plundered the Russian estate. The Oligarchs were regarded as the sons of Yeltsin’s unruly capitalism. Yeltsin was a proponent of economic shock therapy with the aim of totally destroying Soviet Communism. He set out to put the enormous industrial wealth of the country into private hands. The Oligarchs utilised Yeltsin’s ambitions to their own enormous advantage. They became members of Yeltsin’s inner circle and manipulated by all available means the massive fire sale of Russia’s state assets to their own advantage. The Oligarchs bankrolled the seriously ill Yeltsin’s election campaign to ensure his hold on power during his dying days in power. They controlled the media and were able to manipulate Yeltsin’s public appearances to disguise his state of health. But at his end Yeltsin had to concede that privatisation had been exploited by the rapacious Oligarchs. Too late, he asked in his farewell speech for the forgiveness of the Russian people. The Oligarchs were instrumental in Putin’s rise from obscurity as a means for their own advancement through the continued exploitation of the privatised state assets. To achieve their declared objective of maintaining the continuity of power after Yeltsin the Oligarchs found their preferred successor in Putin and manipulated his election to power. Putin was destined to clash with the Oligarchs because his personal ideology retained many aspects of the old soviet approach to power. Putin believed that everything had to be governed from above and it was therefore necessary for him to concentrate power, to control the mass media and to rule business. Inevitably Putin soon fell out with the key Oligarchs which meant that the days of glory for the Oligarchs were rapidly drawing to a close. New players were coming, new fortunes were being made and a new Russian leader sat in the Kremlin. Putin had thwarted and betrayed the Oligarchs. He said to the Oligarchs- you were the ones who asked me to be president so how can you complain? The Oligarchs had no answer. Their days of prominence had ended. But large parts of the huge fortunes the Oligarchs and their cohorts had amassed had been salted away to safe havens around the world. Their fall from grace in Russia would curtail their activities in their homeland but would not drastically impact on their wealthy lifestyles. Putin exacted punishment on those of the Oligarchs who resisted him and most are now exiled from Russia and have slipped entirely from public view.
The Oligarchs provides the reader with complete insights into Russia's social and economic aspects during the Soviet and Post-Soviet eras, diving into the nuances of the old and the new systems taking shape in modern Russia. It is also interesting to point out that most of the facts in this book can also be related to Russia's current foreign policies and economic hassles.