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Characteristics of the Oligarchs


The new magnates’ powerful financial-industrial groups even set up their own private armies with hundreds of security personnel, many of whom were members of Soviet security services in the past, including former high-ranking KGB officers. These formidable security arms were used to shield the groups’ economic interests from criminal rackets and to “sort out” defaulters who refused to pay. 

Vladimir Gusinsky, featuring in a news bulletin on NTV

Another essential characteristic of the oligarchs was their increasing control of the influential mass media, in particular, TV stations with nationwide coverage (Berezovsky’s ORT and Gusinsky’s NTV). The ownership of media outlets allowed them to mold public opinion in ways that promoted their interests and to use compromising material to discredit their political and business rivals.

But the crucial defining feature that marked the oligarchs from other successful business leaders was their connections in the Kremlin, especially their personal access to President Yeltsin and members of his family. Only the ability to establish a mutually beneficial alliance with the Kremlin circle elevated a financial tycoon to the sought-after status of “oligarch.”

The mechanism of the confluence of high officialdom with the oligarchs was simple: the magnates arranged foreign vacations, gave credit cards for the use of government officials or members of their families, and bribed them with gifts of expensive cars, country houses, and even luxurious vacation homes abroad. In return, the oligarchs were able to exercise influence over appointments in the government and state companies, to control key financial decisions, and to use the power of the state to fight competitors and political opponents.

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