Power struggle in Russia: in November 2003, heavily armed special security forces arrested a rich Russian tycoon on an airplane at gun-point. The Swiss Federal Prosecution Office was requested to provide legal assistance by freezing bank accounts of an astronomic CHF6.2 billion. Find out more.

AuteurBucher, Marcel

Once upon a time there were two poor boys in Russia. Born in 1952, Vladimir grew up in a shabby, rat-infested housing estate in Leningrad, where his mother had almost starved during the World War II siege of the city. Even in his childhood, the seemingly frail and inconspicuous boy prowled around the Leningrad KGB headquarters. He admired power--and in the Soviet Union, the secret services held it.

To improve his physical fitness, the aspiring 007 took up Judo and became a successful Judo wrestler. Rather amused by his incessant approaches to them, KGB operatives gave him an invaluable tip by recommending the study of law as an entrance ticket to the secret services. Finally, his sticking around the KGB people paid off and Vladmir Putin being was hired as an agent.

As a typical conformist 'apparatchik' he fitted well into the organisation. By a stroke of extraordinary luck, he was transferred to the Dresden office in East Germany where he soon became fluent in German. Though his job of recruiting spies to be sent to NATO countries was somewhat routine, it trained him for international affairs. Dresden was considered to be on the frontline of the class war, and that pleased the communist Putin, affectionately known to his colleagues as Volodya. They respected little Volodya a stubborn pragmatist but never suspected his future meteoric career. But then Putin's Soviet universe began to fall apart, and he even resigned himself to a bleak future as a humble taxi driver in Leningrad. He actually went to that city, now renamed St. Petersburg, though not as taxi driver, but as right-hand man of reform mayor Anatoly Sobchak

Now the self-styled 'specialist for human relations' was clearly on the way up.

Born roughly 10 years later in remote Siberia, ambitious Mikhail Borissovich desired to become an industrialist in his early youth. The only son of a working-class family made useful contacts as a treasurer in the youth organisation Komsomol. Later, he went to study chemical technology at Moscow's prestigious Mendleyev Institute. As its most brilliant graduate he was bitterly disappointed at not being given the coveted job in an armaments combine for "security reasons". Probably with good reason, he blamed his mishap on an annotation in his passport: Jew. However, this injustice only hardened his resolve to climb to the top.

Gorbi Dolls

Whereas Vladimir Putin felt dispirited by the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Borissovich Khodorkovsky smelt money-making opportunities. As the Komsomol members had been enjoying the privilege of experimenting with market economy, Khodorkovsky now manufactured and sold dolls with the portrait of the Komsomol's former patron, the glasnost prophet Gorbachev. Moreover, he sold rotgut brandy. Profiting from the collapse of the Soviet customs administration, the enterprising doll manufacturer imported computers duty-free from abroad at a high profit. Aged 27, he was the youngest industrialist invited by Gorbachev to join a high-level discussion at the Kremlin.

By mid-1990s, Russia's capitalism had reached its zenith. Self-styled whiz kids imported from the US prescribed a magic cure for the sick post-soviet patient: by distributing 'vouchers' (worth about $100 each) to Russian citizens, a nation of people's capitalists was to be created. By June 1994, 151 million such vouchers had reportedly been distributed to 40 million Russians--now theoretically shareholders of privatised enterprises. Since most people...

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