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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

POWER PLAY: Oligarch's Message Clear to Careful Readers




If there were no oligarchs, life would be boring and the newspapers insipid, just as in the Soviet era.


But now you open the newspapers in the morning and start playing that wonderful game called "reading between the lines."


For example, in an article in a newspaper belonging to one of the oligarchs closely linked with the campaign headquarters of the president-elect, the editor discusses at length why Vladimir Putin won and his opponents lost. It seems the author is preaching to the choir. But that's not the way it seems to the alert reader; for him, the author's answer to the question of why the elections couldn't be falsified explains it all.


Here's why: If Putin had been given votes, then "he would be under the thumb of those who made it happen." That's the phrase on which the entire article hinges, an article that will undoubtedly be placed on the desk of the elected president. In a translation from the Byzantine into simple Russian, read: We helped you, Mr. Putin, in every way during the elections, helped you avoid a second round, which you shouldn't forget: a wrong step in relation to our oligarch, and vote falsifications will be made known to your opponents. It's a form of subtle blackmail.


A few days later, another newspaper that belongs to the same oligarch (we'll call him BAB), renews the "blackmail" of the newly elected president again, butin a harsher form.


In a front-page article published April 1 - April Fool's Day, when newspapers often offer spoof articles - the respectable publication announces: "According to information from unofficial sources, acting President Vladimir Putin won around 42 percent of the vote on March 26, not the 44.8 percent the Communists say he got, and certainly not 52.5 percent, as the Central Election Commission has stated. Putin received 10.5 percent of his votes as the result of outright election fraud."


The article is unsigned, which would lead one to think that it is the editor's. In the lead, the author transparently hints that the article is an April Fool's prank but suggests that the reader may want to take it as the truth. The piece is entitled, "A Non-Joking Article."


But the seasoned reader understands: The oligarch has started a serious war; he's bet his life on it - because this oligarch (a house in Switzerland, a villa in Antibes, a house in London) works for a living not as a businessman, but as a political lobbyist, through access to the higher-ups in the Kremlin. If he has access, then our oligarch receives a serious percentage of every deal he makes with the Kremlin's help.


Our oligarch isn't afraid of being thrown in jail, but he does fear being shut out of the Kremlin. As soon as newspapers and TV stations stop confirming that he influences the appointment of prime ministers, the oligarch's business will dry up, and he'll go bankrupt. Because other oligarchs are trying to take his place; they are insulating themselves from the former Kremlin favorite, and are trying to get rid of him. Thus, our oligarch once again is using a tried-and-true method (refined successfully during the Boris Yeltsin period): With his media outlets, he's starting a full-court press.


The oligarch wars do provide one plus: They allow the average reader to discover information more quickly.


There's no doubt that Putin won the elections; but whether he won in the first or second round (which didn't take place) - according to the oligarch's newspapers, that's the big question. Whether or not Putin was "given" 10 percent of his votes or 5 percent or 6 percent will remain a secret - if, of course, the oligarch doesn't try to break the bank. But here he's betting with his life.


Yevgenia Albats is an independent journalist based in Moscow.