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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

To Join the Elite, It's TV That Counts

It's not how powerful you are but how much coverage you get on television.

That was the finding of a recent opinion poll that asked Russians across the country to name the most influential personalities in politics, business, culture and science.

Unsurprisingly, respondents readily picked President Vladimir Putin as the most powerful politician and pop diva Alla Pugachyova as the leading cultural figure.

But their selections for the business elite essentially turned into a hate list topped by Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais.

Many respondents were unable to name a single scientist, leading to a top- 10 list that bunched together Nobel Prize winners with dead scientists, television hosts and a hostage negotiator.

The sometimes startling answers are a direct result of television, which is the sole information source for many people these days, said Irina Palilova, a sociologist with the Levada Center, the independent polling agency that carried out the survey.

"This poll reflects that people just don't understand what the elite is and can only come up with names of figures who are popular in the media," said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Center for the Study of the Elite in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"Members of the elite are those who rule and decide, but the public knows little about those people," she said.

As such, Putin was followed on the list of the political elite by ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose fist-waving antics are often shown on television. Third place went to Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, whose complaints about government social reforms got significant television coverage in January, when the poll was conducted. Also on the list were State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov (4), liberal politician Irina Khakamada (5), Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov (7), and one-time political heavyweights Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky (9) and Mayor Yury Luzhkov (10).

After Pugachyova, the list of cultural figures included Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, crooner Iosif Kobzon, comedian Yevgeny Petrosyan and pop singer Nikolai Baskov. Not a single writer, artist or philosopher made it into the cultural top 10.

"The cultural elite is only identified as those who are stars," said Vera Zvereva, a culture researcher with the Institute of General History.

The business elite was led by a group of government-connected officials, with Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin (2) and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref (3) trailing Chubais. The next three spots went to wealthy businessmen: London-based oil magnate and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and self-exiled Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky. Fradkov resurfaced in eighth place and Yavlinsky in 10th.

"Ordinary Russians are unhappy with their economic situation, so the roll of the business elite can be viewed as a rating of public hatred," said Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the Indem think tank. "This explains Chubais' place at the top of the list.

"Also, conventional wisdom has it that the worst demon is the most powerful," he said.

Many Russians blame Chubais, once a close economic aide to former President Boris Yeltsin, for the sharp drop in their living standards in the 1990s.

Only 67 percent of respondents were able to name anyone in the scientific community. In the end, Nobel-winning physicist Zhores Alfyorov topped the list of scientific elite, while the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Alexander Sakharov placed third and Nobel-winning physicist Vitaly Ginzburg placed fifth.

The list also included physicist Sergei Kapitsa, who hosts a TV science show (2); the late eye doctor Svyatoslav Fyodorov (4); pediatrician Leonid Roshal, who assisted in negotiations during the Dubrovka and Beslan hostage crises (6); and animal television show host Nikolai Drozdov (8). The science list was rounded off by Moscow State University rector Viktor Sadovnichy (9) and, bizarrely, Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn (10).

The survey asked 1,600 people in 46 regions to name five or six people who they believed were members of the nation's political, cultural, economic and scientific elite. The margin of error was less than 3 percentage points.