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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oligarchs Brought Down to Size

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In a recent interview with the Financial Times, RusAl owner and billionaire Oleg Deripaska declared that, "If the state says we need to give it up, we'll give it up."

Every oligarch has been making similar oaths to prove their loyalty to President Vladimir Putin. The only exception was former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom the Kremlin turned into a textbook case to show other oligarchs what happens when you don't swear allegiance to Putin.

"I just got lucky," Deripaska said in his interview with the Financial Times. "It is as if wealth has rained down on me from the heavens."

Just lucky?

At the end of the 1980s, when most other young physicists frittered away their time not working, Deripaska had a sixth sense of how to make money by selling raw materials on the market. He went to work for TransWorld Group, one of the most powerful corporate empires of the early 1990s. At a time when former Soviet company directors still thought owning corporate stocks could land a person in jail, Deripaska and TWG bought up shares in the Sayansky Aluminum Plant. The plant had been on the verge of closing after bandits brazenly made the rounds of the various workshops and unloaded aluminum anywhere they could find a buyer. As the company's young new director, Deripaska is said to have slept at the factory for months, losing teeth due to the fluoride in the water in the same way sailors did during the voyages of the 16th-century Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

In order to buy up the shares, TWG brought in Vladimir Tatarenkov, the local reputed mobster. No one knows how Tatarenkov managed to obtain the shares. Maybe he bought the shares or simply seized them. But when the shares landed in Tatarenkov's hands, Deripaska squealed to the police, declaring, "I decided to fight against organized crime."

Tatarenkov was determined to kill Deripaska, having made several attempts on his life. Tatarenkov approached Anatoly Bykov, the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant director at the time, and suggested he pay some type of honorarium in return for the hit, arguing that Bykov had reason to fear Deripaska's growing influence in the aluminum business. But Bykov declined, reportedly saying, "He's your enemy, not mine."

It was Deripaska who led a mutiny of Russian managers against the TWG empire, diluting its ownership stake in the Sayansky Aluminum Plant by emitting new TWG shares.

With all those nights spent at the Sayansky factory, the deadly feuds with Tatarenkov and Bykov, and the uprising against TWG -- can it really be said Deripaska was "just lucky"?

In 1730, Peter the Great's comrades helped create the New Russia. They were strong, cunning, and corrupt. They were also extremely clever, calling to the throne the unintelligent and weak Anna Ivanovna and placing very severe limitations on her powers. Those who had sought to impose limits on her power had done so to preserve their own influence, and not for the good of others. But once she ascended to the throne, she exercised her new authority by tossing those limits out. Those in power always have the upper hand.

The oligarchs, like Peter the Great's compatriots, were tireless, talented and ruthless. Not one of them became a billionaire by chance. But when the oligarchs selected Putin as Boris Yeltsin's successor, they were not concerned with the rights of others. They only thought about advancing their own rights and freedom. But these same heavy hitters, who enjoyed unprecedented wealth and power for such a long time, now stand meekly on the steps of the gallows. In an attempt to buy time or to keep at least some portion of the plundered fortunes for themselves, the oligarchs are now saying to their president: "Your Majesty, all that is mine is yours. Take what you wish."

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.