Seven Bankers Not All That Magnificent

Interfax recently released a list of Russia's 50 most influential industrialists and entrepreneurs, which was put together by the Vox Populi sociological research organization.


Unlike other lists of this kind, this one has several peculiarities. One is that Interfax singled out seven leading businessmen, known as the "magnificent seven." Among the big seven are: Rem Vyakhirev from Gazprom; Alexander Smolensky from Stolichny Bank; Vladimir Gusinsky from the Most group; Mikhail Khodorkovsky from Menatep; Vagit Alekperov from LUKoil; Andrei Kazmin from Sberbank and Boris Berezovsky, who formally left his positions in business after his nomination as deputy chairman of the Security Council.


I understand how tentative such ratings can be, because I myself was among the 50 experts recruited by Vox Populi to determine the businessmen's influence.


The initial list of 150 names of the heads of large companies is cause for some doubts. There are some businessmen among them who have never headed a serious company, such as a certain Goryachev, who directs an obscure concern by the same name and whose claim to fame was that he once boxed ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ears. There are others on the list who have long lost their influence on economic policy such as the State Duma deputy leader Konstantin Borovoi.


The ratings nevertheless do reflect stereotypes that were partly created by the very people who make up the list as well as the real state of affairs.


It should be noted that the big seven reveals a tendency to speculate on how power in Russia has been seized by a financial oligarchy. The term semibankirshchina, or the rule of seven bankers, which recalls the rule of seven boyars during the Time of Troubles during the 17th century, has gained some currency recently.


This reflects the negative relationship that simple people have to wealthy bankers, especially those who are close to power. But this is encouraged by people like Berezovsky, who has recently given several misleading interviews to the Western media, saying that it is precisely the biggest businessmen who are calling the tune in the Kremlin.


In my view, the level of influence that business has on economic policy and politics in general is greatly exaggerated. Even the biggest companies are much more dependent on political authorities than the other way around. Most big businesses are sustained by the government budget or with orders from the state.


Of course, big businessmen influence politicians and politics, but not to the degree that most people think. Moreover, the choice of the big seven is far from impeccable. The inclusion of Sberbank chairman Andrei Kazmin seems to me unnecessary. Despite this bank's enormous capital, Kazmin himself is something of a government official who carries out the wishes of his employer, the Central Bank, which has a controlling share of Sberbank. Vyakhirev or Smolensky, for example, are far more influential people than Kazmin. At the same time, the list omits several important names such as Anatoly Dyakov of Unified Energy Systems of Russia.


The list's accuracy aside, however, it shows that big business has been recognized as a serious political factor in Russian life.





Mikhail Berger is economics editor of Izvestia.