Have you ever wondered when things went wrong for Russia? How did we end up where we are now? Why is our country, which has everything it needs for its people to live well, mired in poverty, hopelessness, and powerlessness? Who took the chance at a life with dignity away from us?


he answer we often hear is that, well, that's just the way it is. The whims of history and Russians' unique "mentality" mean the country just couldn't develop properly. 

But this is wrong. What looks chaotic and random at first turns out on closer inspection to be a logical chain of events. A chain of decisions made by specific individuals, each of them driven by very concrete motives: self-interest, corruption, greed, vanity.

If we don't understand how we ended up with Putin, how the foundation for the last quarter century was laid, it will be hard for us to know how to live when he's gone — how to live differently. Just as happened in the 1990s, we'll miss a historic opportunity for a life with dignity.

Part I

The beginning

The House on Osennyaya

In 1991, the cortege of the newly elected president of the new Russia, Boris Yeltsin, followed the same route every day, from the state dacha in Barvikha through Krylatskoye to the Kremlin.

Krylatskoye is a beautiful, prosperous area, a paradise for the privileged in the late Soviet Union. It was designed to maximize convenience, with schools, kindergartens, and stores within walking distance of residences. The authorities even showed it off to Margaret Thatcher, bringing their honored guest to the Diet grocery store and having her be invited home for a cup of tea by a "random" passerby. Krylatskoe looked like a dream. And for most Soviet citizens, this kind of life was just that: a dream. Only the nomenklatura lived here, the cream of society.

On the other side of the Rublyovskoe highway lies Kuntsevo, which Yeltsin was also very familiar with. Only two years earlier, as a fallen, outcast politician originally from Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg), he had organized a rally in front of the cinema in Kuntsevo. A crowd had gathered carrying posters saying "Let's vote for Yeltsin!" and "Yeltsin stands for the people! The people stand for Yeltsin!" He was then elected to the new legislature as the people's deputy from Moscow.

The rally in Kuntsevo, 1989

Once Yeltsin was passing by in his car when he noticed an unfinished brick building hugging a forest on the outskirts of Krylatskoye. He asked his head of security, Alexander Korzhakov, what it was. It turned out that the building at 4-2 Osennyaya Street had been intended for the leadership of the Ministry of Health but had been abandoned. Yeltsin demanded that it be restored and completed immediately. Why? Because he wanted to live in it.

The shock workers sprung into action, and by the spring of 1993, the six-story building was in perfect condition. Head of the Main Directorate of Security, Mikhail Barsukov, brought Yeltsin drawings and floor plans. The house was divided into 20 apartments, each at least 160 square meters (1700 square feet). The private grounds had their own security team, state communication facilities, underground parking lot, saunas, and tennis court.

The House on Osennyaya, now known as "Yeltsin's House"

Yeltsin was delighted, choosing two apartments on the top floor to combine them into one 364-square-meter apartment (almost 4000 square feet). He chose another apartment below his own for his eldest daughter, Yelena, and her family. The remaining apartments went out to Yeltsin's favorites.

In 1992, hardly anyone would have believed this story. That Yeltsin would build himself a massive house at state expense and distribute apartments to relatives and friends? It seemed unthinkable. Yeltsin had become famous by fighting fiercely against party privileges, inequality, and social injustice. In his 1989 manifesto, he wrote truly revolutionary things and personally criticized the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR:

Perestroika would not have stagnated […] if Gorbachev personally could have restrained himself with regard to special benefits. If he himself had renounced those completely unnecessary but traditional and pleasant privileges. If he had not started building a house for himself in the Lenin Hills, a new dacha near Moscow, another one in Pitsunda, and then a new, ultra-modern one near Foros. […] When people know about blatant social inequality and see that the leader is doing nothing to stop the shameless expropriation of benefits by the party leadership, the last drops of faith evaporate.

Boris Yeltsin

Yeltsin used public transportation like everyone else. He shopped in ordinary grocery stores. He told the people around him how angry he was that pensions couldn't be increased by 10 rubles, while a minister's salary had been raised by 400.

It's absolutely unbelievable. This is deceiving the people! Insulting the people! That's what I'd call it. Isn't 800 rubles enough for the minister? Does he really need 1,200? Does Gorbachev have to increase his salary to 1,500 rubles? They're clueless about how

people are living.

Boris Yeltsin

This straightforward political trick worked perfectly. Party privileges and the blatant inequality between the elite and the rest of the country were infuriating. In the late Soviet Union, people lived in real poverty. Higher education, professional experience, hard work — all this was useless unless you had the right connections. The whole country stood in line for hours for lousy food. The shelves were practically empty. Fresh meat was an unaffordable luxury, so everyone bought it canned. Once a month, you'd get coupons for sugar, cereal, and oil rations.


It was unjust, dishonest, and humiliating, and people felt this all the more strongly when they saw well-fed party elites who lacked for nothing. They often didn't even need to pay for their luxuries, since it all just came with their positions. People saw in Yeltsin what they wanted to see: someone who would finally speak up about this injustice, stand up for the common people, and put things in order.

But behind the scenes, the real life of Yeltsin the privilege-fighter was quite different. In 1989, he lived in a five-room apartment in central Moscow, in the Tsekovsky House (so called because members of the party's Central Committee, the "Tse-Ka," lived there). Yeltsin had a driver, assistants, and all the comforts of a party leader. But Yeltsin did not like the apartment on 2-Tverskaya-Yamskaya and complained in his book that it was "noisy and dirty." Most party leaders, according to Yeltsin, settled in quiet and peaceful neighborhoods in western Moscow — like Krylatskoye.

Yeltsin moved into his two combined apartments on the sixth floor of the House on Osennyaya with his wife and his youngest daughter's family, while Yelena and her family moved in below. None of them paid a cent. And this wasn't just Yeltsin's crash pad as president — the apartments became their personal property.

Then Yeltsin chose his neighbors. One of the apartments went to Korzhakov, his bodyguard: 192 square meters (over 2000 square feet) on the sixth floor. Across the landing from him was Viktor Chernomyrdin, prime minister at the time. The latter's deputy, Yegor Gaidar, got an apartment on the second floor. Head of the Main Directorate of Security Barsukov and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, the president's closest friends and drinking buddies, were also given apartments, as were Administrative Directorate head Pavel Borodin, Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, and the latter's deputy Vladimir Resin.

At this point Yeltsin apparently ran out of officials to give apartments to, so he started inviting friends, like his tennis coach Shamil Tarpishchev and the humorist Mikhail Zadornov. Zadornov allegedly also played tennis with Yeltsin and knew how to make him laugh.

But the house also had one very unusual resident who was neither a bureaucrat, nor an apparatchik, nor a party functionary. His presence was inexplicable to almost all of his elite neighbors, except for Yeltsin himself.

Apartment number 2 was assigned to the 35-year-old journalist Valentin Yumashev, who worked as an editor in the letters department of the magazine Ogonyok. Those who saw him at the time described Yumashev as scruffy, unkempt, and always dressed in a dirty, stretched-out sweater. Korzhakov recalled that he once visited Yumashev's apartment and was shocked by the terrible mess and unpleasant smell. "Yumashev had turned his apartment into a garbage dump," Korzhakov wrote.

No one could have imagined that in a few years, this man would become the de facto leader of the country. Having gained Yeltsin's full confidence, Yumashev and his closest friends accumulated so much power that they determined in large part the way Russia looks today — and who rules it.


I did not want to write these memoirs, but I was persuaded to. We worked with a young journalist, Valentin Yumashev, who "adapted to my rhythm, without weekends, working all night." Without him, this book would not have been written.

Boris Yeltsin

It all began with a film about Yeltsin that Yumashev made in 1989. It was called Boris Yeltsin: Portrait Against the Background of a Struggle.The movie was very flattering: there's even a moment when the journalists "accidentally" meet Yeltsin, who is registering at an ordinary neighborhood medical clinic. Yumashev and Yeltsin ended up spending a lot of time together and decided that they needed to make a book as well as a movie. Yeltsin recorded his thoughts on a tape recorder, and Yumashev transcribed, edited, and compiled them. They even went to the countryside together for a few days to hole up in a dacha and work on the manuscript of Confession on a Assigned Topic. Almost immediately after Yeltsin gave Yumashev an apartment on Osennyaya, they began work on a second book, The President's Journal, which was published in 1994. Yumashev is mentioned in the introduction:

I am grateful to Valentin Yumashev. […] We have been creative friends for more than five years. […] Our conversations, sometimes at night in the Kremlin office, sometimes on an airplane, sometimes by the fireplace, but most often at the Macintosh computer, when work on the manuscript was proceeding most feverishly, always helped me sense the shape of the future book.

Boris Yeltsin

If Yeltsin at least dictated his first book, the second was written by Yumashev and merely edited by the president. Now Yeltsin and Yumashev shared more than just a creative friendship. From the moment this book appeared, they were bound together by money.

Boris Berezovsky

The most important difference between Yeltsin's first and second books is that this time, Boris Nikolayevich decided to make serious money from his memoirs. If Confession was the book of a remarkable but not yet world-famous fighter against Soviet power, the second was written by the president of Russia. And not just the president, but the first president, with personal stories about the collapse of the Soviet Union, the August coup, and the tumult of 1993, seen from the very epicenter of events. Popular interest was sky-high.

The book was not published in the usual way, where the author sells the rights to the publisher for a fee and a percentage of the proceeds. If you look at the English translation, you'll notice that two companies are mentioned: the famous Times Books published this book jointly with an unknown outfit called Belka.

Belka belonged to Yeltsin's son-in-law. In reality, he was an oil trader and had never published books. But this joint publication plan promised to be lucrative for all involved.

They did the same thing in Russia: instead of selling the book to a publisher, they decided to print it themselves. Yumashev sourced the funds from Boris Berezovsky. The two had been introduced by a man who is unjustly overlooked when it comes to the oligarchs of the 1990s: Pyotr Aven, the billionaire and current owner of Alfa-Bank. Today he lives in Europe, collects art, writes books, and pretends he had nothing to do with Putin.

Petr Aven

But in the early '90s, Aven was deputy foreign minister and head of the Committee for Foreign Economic Relations. His signature is on a now-historic document in which Vladimir Putin, a young deputy mayor of Leningrad, asks his committee to allow him to buy food supplies abroad. At the time, in 1991, St. Petersburg was practically starving. There was no meat, sugar, powdered milk, or baby food, and no money to buy it. Putin was asking permission to barter: food would be sent from abroad, and in return, raw materials like wood, aluminum, petroleum products, and copper could be exported. Pyotr Aven gave him the go-ahead.

A few years later, it turned out that the barter scheme had been a huge scam. Putin signed the contracts not with real importers, but with fly-by-night companies linked to his friends and the St. Petersburg mafia. The raw materials were sold abroad, the intermediary companies received money for them, and the products simply did not arrive.

Aven had known Boris Berezovsky since the 1970s. Back then, the mathematician and engineer Berezovsky was working at the Institute of Control Sciences. The two were introduced by Aven's father, who worked at the Russian Academy of Sciences. At about the time that Aven introduced Yumashev to Berezovsky, Aven was advising the latter at LogoVAZ, Berezovsky's firm, which traded VAZ cars and imported foreign ones.

Aven commented on his introduction of the two very casually, saying Yumashev was looking to buy a car, and Aven had advised him to contact Berezovsky. That may well be so: according to old traffic police databases, Yumashev ownd a Chevrolet Blazer and a Jeep Cherokee in the early '90s — the kinds of cars LogoVAZ sold.

This wasn't the only time Aven arranged a meeting that turned out to be fateful for Russia. He also introduced oligarch Roman Abramovich to Berezovsky, and later all three — Berezovsky, Abramovich, and Yumashev — to Putin.

Berezovsky's decisive role in shaping the Russia we have today has been increasingly downplayed over time. With every year that passes since his death, his closest associates, like Aven, Yumashev, Anatoly Chubais, and Putin, try harder to erase history and distance themselves from him. Case in point is Pyotr Aven's book The Age of Berezovsky, in which he's portrayed as a kind of foolish adventurer, nothing more.

But the fact remains that in the 1990s, they were all inextricably linked to Berezovsky. In fact, it was really his meeting Yumashev that propelled him to center stage. Before then, Berezovsky was just another post-Soviet entrepreneur. Afterwards, he became the person we think of now when we hear his name — the first real oligarch, who practically ruled Russia and robbed it ostentatiously, drunk on power impunity.

Boris Berezovsky

Let's go back to 1993. In November or December, Yumashev and Berezovsky reached an agreement. Berezovsky would provide funds for the publication of Yeltsin's book in Russian — around $500,000. Half of the money would come from Berezovsky himself and the other half from Vladimir Kadannikov, Berezovsky's partner and the general director of AvtoVAZ. The book could easily have been sold to dozens of publishers, but the point of the arrangement was different: it created a way to pay bribes to Yeltsin.

"Royalty payments" proved the perfect cover for the money that, according to Korzhakov, Yumashev would bring to Russia's first president. Later, "royalties" served as an explanation for Yeltsin's purchase of a dacha in the elite Rublyovka and other expenses by his relatives, even years later.

This event is the presentation of Yeltsin's book at the Grand Kremlin Palace. The attendees are mostly foreign book publishers who publish memoirs abroad. Berezovsky was also present at the event.

Berezovsky became famous throughout Russia on June 7, 1994, when his armored Mercedes was blown up right in the center of Moscow, near his office. The driver was killed instantly, his head blown off. Berezovsky himself miraculously survived, though he suffered numerous injuries and burns.

Five days later, Berezovsky was supposed to attend a  Russia Day reception in the Presidential Club in the Sparrow (formerly Lenin) Hills.

The Club was founded by Yeltsin in the old reception building of the Communist Party's Central Committee. It was a place for ministers, governors, and officials to make informal contacts, meet with the president, and relax. There were swimming pools, saunas, tennis courts, and fitness studios with personal trainers. You could only get into the Presidential Club by personal invitation from Yeltsin. And Berezovsky had an invitation.

On June 12, 1994, he arrived at the Club to appear before Yeltsin with a burned face and wrapped in bandages — Yumashev is supposed to have advised him not to let his injuries get in the way of the reception. Berezovsky's appearance made a strong impression on Yeltsin, and he demanded that the mystery of the assassination attempt be solved immediately.

Starting in June 1994, fateful events began following each other in rapid succession. The course was set for Russia's next few decades so rapidly that it's difficult to comprehend today.

Five months later, Berezovsky would seize control of the country's biggest state television broadcaster. The loans-for-shares scam would take place in one year. Yeltsin's 1996 re-election would take place a year after that. And one year later, Yumashev would invite Putin to join the Presidential Administration.


Russian readers will have no trouble remembering what the big prize on the game show Field of Wonders was. In the early '90s, the cars they gave to winners came from Boris Berezovsky's LogoVAZ.


The show's beloved host, Leonid Yakubovich, was the face of the company's advertising, while Berezovsky's other project, the All-Russia Automobile Alliance (AVVA), advertised on Field of Wonders.

Berezovsky's plan was to develop and begin mass production on a people's car: cheap, reliable, and affordable for all.

The plan was to assemble the cars in a brand-new factory in Togliatti, which Berezovsky wanted to build with funds provided by average Russians. They'd buy AVVA shares, and AVVA would use the money to build the factory. Then shareholders would receive not only cars, but dividends.

Alas, they never got further than a blueprint, because this was a classic pyramid scheme. It was designed to trick poor Russians with no investment experience into thinking they could get rich quick, and at the same time to get the most important symbol of wealth — their own car.

Two-and-a-half million people fell for it and gave away their savings. Why be suspicious of the scheme when AVVA had the full support of the government? After all, deputy prime ministers Yegor Gaidar and Alexander Shokhin, AvtoVAZ head Kadannikov, and the governor of the Samara region, where the factory was to be built, had taken to the stage of the Bolshoi Theater to talk about investing in the people's car.

The privatization of state vouchers had begun a year earlier, and Berezovsky's scam blended right in. AVVA shares were traded out of suitcases at metro stations and hawkers' stalls, together with the infamous Chubais vouchers. 148 million of the latter were printed and distributed to every Russian citizen, from newborns to the elderly.

This isn't equalization, it's not distribution. Work and earn as much as you can. We don't need a few millionaires, we need millions of private property owners.

Boris Yeltsin

In August 1992, Chubais had launched an unprecedented campaign: everyone would receive a slice of state property. Factories, companies, and much more — a significant portion of the economy was recorded, valued, and divided into 148 million pieces. Take yours for free and use it wisely: exchange it for shares in any company at a check auction, invest in one of the many check funds to receive dividends, or just sell it.

It was hard to believe that people who had spent their entire lives in the Soviet Union, where there was no private property and entrepreneurship was illegal, would know what to do. Nevertheless, voucher privatization was touted as the most important event of the century. Chubais said each voucher could be exchanged for two Volga cars. He and Gaidar attended auctions in person. An expensive television ad promised viewers "your share in the new Russia."


The people's privatization was a total failure. The vast majority of Russians never got their share in the new Russia. The check funds where Russians deposited their vouchers with the promise of immediate payout turned out to be fraudulent; the vouchers were stolen and the money never appeared. And it was almost impossible to sell vouchers at a profit, so people exchanged them for vodka, carpet, or laundry detergent. The lucky ones traded them for boots. The shares in Soviet companies that had been promised to the people ended up in the hands of big buyers, speculators, and the managers of those companies, who snatched up millions of vouchers.

The saddest part of what happened wasn't so much this brazen highway robbery as the complete collapse of hopes and expectations for the new Russia. People believed in Chubais's fairy tales about golden mountains of vouchers. They did everything the government told them, everything that was promised in the ads, but then they were cheated, and no one was punished for it.

Now look at Berezovsky's AVVA stock. On the front side, we see a portrait of the 19th-century entrepreneur and philanthropist Mamontov. The face value is 10,000 rubles (just like on Chubais's voucher), and below are tear-off coupons for dividend payments for eight years to come. On the opposite side is the signature of the CEO of AvtoVAZ.

AVVA promised the paper could be exchanged for real shares at some point in the future. This was the crux of the scam, because that future never came. They didn't even start making the people's car. In six months, some $50 million was raised on the basis of empty promises. Berezovsky immediately spent the money on shares in AvtoVAZ for himself. He already controlled 20% through his partners, and he wanted another 30%. In this way Berezovsky made the country's biggest automobile concern his private property, using other people's money. He usually preferred not to spend his own.


The assassination attempt in June 1994 forced Berezovsky to rethink his life priorities. He realized he was no longer interested in business and wanted to get involved in politics.

He wanted power, recognition, and a seat at the table of the country's rulers. But how could a businessman, even a very rich one, ascend such heights? How could he go from being the owner of car dealerships to calling the shots in the Kremlin?

Throughout these ten years, I never considered the mass media as a business. Instead, I considered it as the most potent instrument for political influence. When I endeavored to secure ownership of ORT in 1994, my intentions were clear from the outset. I firmly believed that with this political instrument we would be able to continue the ongoing reforms.

Boris Berezovsky

The answer was simple: television. In the pre-internet era, TV decided Russia's entire political agenda. Whoever determined what was on television shaped reality. It was a tremendous power to be able to decide for people what was important and what wasn't. You could turn anyone into a star, a hero, in the blink of an eye — or ruin their lives and careers forever.

In 1994, Berezovsky got the unique opportunity to take over Channel One. At the time, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, with high debt, mass layoffs, and strikes. It was running out of money, and the advertising revenue that could have saved it was… disappearing somewhere.

Ostankino Tower

There were heated discussions about the fate of the channel. It could be auctioned off — there would have been many bidders for such a valuable asset. A special tax could be levied so that viewers themselves would pay for public television. Someone could put an end to the theft of advertising revenue.

But in November 1994, Yeltsin signed a decree that caught everyone off guard. A new company, ORT, would take over Channel One and acquire what had belonged to the previous broadcaster, Ostankino. The state would receive 51% of the shares in ORT, while 49% would go to private owners.

There was no tender or auction for these shares; the government simply appointed new owners. Who they were only became known more than three months later. On March 10, 1995, the head of Ostankino, Alexander Yakovlev, gave a speech to the Duma in which he named the new owners of: the Association of Independent Television Companies, the National Sports Fund, LogoVAZ, Menatep Bank, the National Credit Bank, Сapital Bank, Gazprom, Alfa-Bank, United Bank, and the Mikrodin Group.

They formed a consortium that took control of 49% of the channel. However, after a short time, some of the shareholders called it a day. Gazprom sold its shares to LogoVAZ. Some banks transferred their shares to Berezovsky for fiduciary management, and it turned out United Bank was under his control. In other words, ORT, despite the long list of official owners, was in the hands of one man — Berezovsky.

It was a conspiracy. The group of businessmen had simply been pretending to save Channel One from bankruptcy, as some of them eventually admitted. In April 1995, an interview with one of the new owners, the banker Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was published. His company Menatep held a 5% stake in the channel. Khodorkovsky argued very persuasively that ORT was an attractive project, that he believed in his investment and was convinced he'd get a good return. He discussed the financing model and the channel's plans in detail.

Twenty-four years later, Khodorkovsky gave another interview and described his role in ORT quite differently. 

Yes, Boris Abramovich came to us. He said: "I want to take over ORT. Will you help me, will you take a few shares? Support me, this is for me, it's mine. Any money needed to fund ORT will be my problem, you won't owe me anything." Then he came and said, "You supported me, thank you very much. Give it back." We gave it back. It was purely a "friendly favor," as they say.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky


There was no investment project, no consortium. It was just a friendly favor — a favor from a nominal owner in order to conceal the real one.

In 1998, the Audit Chamber began to review the history of the creation of ORT and found many violations and instances of stock fraud. The report read, "The audit failed to identify the economic and social need for the establishment of ORT." 

So why did Yeltsin hand over a channel watched by the vast majority of Russians to a shady fraudster?

The answer to this question can be found in one of the most important documents from the Yeltsin-Putin era: transcripts of more than 30 days of hearings at the High Court in London, where Berezovsky was suing Abramovich.

Much was written about this trial in 2011 and 2012. Every day, the participants told unbelievable details under oath about how Russia worked: how hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes were paid, how the country was sawed apart at auctions, how documents were falsified, how bureaucrats, officials, and Yeltsin and his family were bought. All of this information can be found within over 6000 pages of court transcripts.

Berezovsky said he acted through Yeltsin's bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov and his new friend Valentin Yumashev.

He convinced them that Ostankino should be privatized and that if he got the channel, he would invest $200 million a year in developing it. The decisive argument was that if he became the owner, he would guarantee Yeltsin full and unconditional support in the presidential election a year and a half later — and the destruction of all his rivals.

Korzhakov and Yumashev then arranged a meeting between Berezovsky and Yeltsin. Yeltsin knew exactly what was going on and that Berezovsky would get ORT. The purchase of the channel was all about the 1996 election and Yeltsin's victory in it, as Berezovsky confirmed during the trial in London.

As a result of a behind-the-scenes deal with Yeltsin, Yumashev, and Korzhakov, Channel One came under private control. ORT made sure Yeltsin, and later the Party of Unity (which was to become United Russia) and Putin himself, got elected. Berezovsky, who ran the channel single-handedly and literally dictated stories to journalists, became the supreme power broker for several years. Since then, 1994, Channel One has been owned by oligarchs — though Putin replaced them with his own 20 years later.

There is an unexpected plot twist to this story about the powerful media tycoon Berezovsky. It will only come to light again through testimony in the London court. Berezovsky undoubtedly single-handedly managed the ORT channel. But it was actually Roman Abramovich who truly funded and maintained the channel.


Just one month after the transfer of ORT to Berezovsky, a fateful event occurred far from Russia. In December 1994, Alfa-Bank's Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, and German Khan went to the Caribbean on vacation, renting two yachts and inviting friends. Berezovsky took one of the guest cabins. Roman Abramovich, a mutual friend of Fridman and Aven, took another.

Roman Abramovich

Abramovich was only 28 years old. He was already a very rich man, but unlike the others, he was completely unknown to the public. By 1994, he had earned tens of millions of dollars in a very simple way: buying cheap Russian oil and shipping it abroad. As he asserts, by 1994, he had become the primary fuel supplier for power plants in Romania and Moldova.

There, on a yacht in the Caribbean, Abramovich told his new acquaintance Berezovsky about the most important project of his life. He wanted to merge the two Siberian companies he was working with to form Sibneft — and become its owner. The united Sibneft would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year.

But one little detail was in Abramovich's way: both companies belonged to the state. And there was absolutely no reason why they should be privatized and sold to a 28-year-old oil trader.

Berezovsky proposed a solution. He would get Yeltsin and the government to approve the creation of Sibneft and transfer it to him and Abramovich. In return, he wanted a monetary allowance.

And then it turned out that not only ORT needed to be paid for.

Today, Abramovich is known as an oligarch and a philanthropist, but back then he was just a boy running errands for Berezovsky. He would spend hours waiting in the reception area, hoping to catch Berezovsky's attention. Berezovsky affectionately called him Romochka or "dear." He would often ask Abramovich for help with various tasks, like arranging a private plane when necessary.


Berezovsky asked him to help him with everything. Abramovich paid for Berezovsky's security and his driver, rented an apartment for him, bought cars for his wife and mistress, and even financed Berezovsky's family vacations, which were lavish — the bill for one trip to Spain in 1996 came to $140,000. The brazen, humiliating demands for money increased with every year, but Abramovich simply did what was asked. He knew full well that the only way he'd get Sibneft was through Berezovsky.


At the beginning of 1995, there was still no Sibneft, but two separate companies: Noyabrskneftegaz, which produced oil in Yamal, and the Omsk refinery, which refined that crude into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and bitumen. At the time, this was one of Russia's largest and most advanced refineries, employing several thousand people and accounting for a third of the Omsk region's tax revenue.

Omsk Oil Refinery

The companies were state-owned and managed by two different "red directors" (so called because they'd held high posts at Soviet-era organizations). Relations between Noyabrskneftegaz's Viktor Gorodilov and the Omsk refinery's Ivan Litskevich were poor, which repeatedly led to conflicts, underdeliveries of oil, delays, and other problems.

Ivan Litskevich and Viktor Gorodilov

One solution was to merge the two companies under one team with a common strategy. Other major oil concerns had already been restructured this way: Yukos, Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz. To make it happen for Sibneft, the government, the governor, the heads of both companies, and Yeltsin himself would have to reach an agreement — but they could not.

In court, Abramovich explained the gist of the deal with Berezovsky. The latter was supposed to get Yeltsin to sign two decrees: one on the creation of Sibneft and another, immediately afterwards, privatizing the company. In return, Abramovich promised to pay Berezovsky $30 million a year.

Founding the company was the easy part. In fact, the decision to create Sibneft had already been made, but the plan was to incorporate it into the state-owned Rosneft. Berezovsky had to do the almost impossible: he had to convince Yeltsin to give up all the revenue that Sibneft could bring to the federal budget and auction it off — and not to the highest bidder, but to him and Abramovich. In economic terms, it was madness.

Enter ORT. In the spring of 1995, Berezovsky met with Yumashev and Yeltsin and told them that he urgently needed money to finance the channel. He didn't mention Sibneft or ask for privatization — he just complained that the channel was out of money ahead of the presidential election, and since Yeltsin couldn't win without the support of ORT, they had to find some cash for it. Yeltsin agreed — they had to.

Separately, Berezovsky reached an agreement with Yumashev and Korzhakov that Sibneft would provide the cash. What luck! They were already planning to create the company, they just had to privatize it. But luck had nothing to do with all this. It was just a cynical backroom deal to swap billions in state property for complimentary stories on ORT.

The biggest opponent of the founding and privatization of Sibneft was Ivan Litskevich, the director of the Omsk refinery. On August 19, 1995, he died under mysterious circumstances. While on his way home from work, he asked his driver to stop and went for a swim in the Irtysh River. His body was found the next day, and the case was dismissed as an accident.

Headline: The director of the biggest oil refinery in Russia has passed away.

A week later, on August 24, Yeltsin signed a decree creating Sibneft, allegedly at the request of the workers' collectives of the Omsk refinery and Noyabrskneftegaz, as well as of the regional governors.

The second decree was signed on November 27: 51% of the state's shares were to be pledged at so-called pledge auctions, and very quickly — in just four weeks.

In December, Abramovich and Berezovsky took control of Sibneft. The first profits rolled in and they took the money abroad. In January 1996, it emerged that the Omsk refinery's contributions to the regional budget had dropped by more than two-thirds, and the oblast government was facing bankruptcy. The Omsk parliament formed an emergency commission, and the deputies tried to figure out what had happened and where the money had gone. A few weeks later, one of its members, Oleg Chertov, was shot to death in his apartment building. The crime was never solved.

Headline: In memory of Oleg Chervov

Nevertheless, the deputies continued their work and published a resolution: the only way to save the budget was for the region to buy back the shares in the refinery pledged by the oligarchs. Governor Leonid Polezhayev ignored the demand. Abramovich gradually bought up all the shares and the company remained with him. Ten years later, he sold it back to the state (Gazprom) for the record sum of $13 billion, making Abramovich the richest man in Russia.

He generously rewarded those who had taken part in the founding and privatization of Sibneft, providing for them for the rest of their lives. Viktor Gorodilov, the director of Noyabrskneftegaz, was appointed president of Sibneft. His son Andrei Gorodilov became vice president of the company and later vice governor of Chukotka. Abramovich also hired the son of the head of the Omsk region, Alexei Polezhayev.

Those involved in the deal still live next to each other. Abramovich has a huge estate in Skolkovo, and literally on the other side of the fence live the sons of Gorodilov and Polezhayev, whose fathers decided to be more cooperative than the drowned Ivan Litskevich.

All this was just the beginning of the great treason of Russia.

Part II

The Family and the oligarchs 

Here’s how Yeltsin, who was to be re-elected in 1996, looked like.


These images went viral worldwide, igniting a profound feeling of embarrassment. The drunken president stumbles during an official visit to Berlin, barely staying upright. Suddenly inspired, he begins conducting the German orchestra. And there were numerous incidents like this.

In six months, he had suffered two heart attacks. All of this was kept under wraps, described as ischemic heart disease. However, the reality was that Yeltsin would disappear for several months, and when he returned, his behavior became erratic.

The economy was a complete disaster: salaries hadn't been paid for months, and privatization had delivered no benefits. Adding to the sense of calamity was the extremely unpopular war in Chechnya, which Yeltsin had started in 1994 and in which enlisted soldiers were dying every day.

The final blow was the Duma elections in December 1995. Forty-three parties were participating, even such exotic ones as: the Housing and Utility Workers' Union, the Beer Lovers' Party, and Juna's Bloc. And, of course, familiar ones like "Yabloko" under the chairmanship of Yavlinsky, the electoral bloc by the democrat Ella Pamfilova, and Yeltsin's party "Our Home — Russia," led by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and represented by film director Nikita Mikhalkov.

The government expected the ruling party to receive around 20% of the vote, but it ended up with 10%, less than Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR and much less than Gennady Zyuganov's Communists, who won with over 22%. Following this electoral fiasco, Chubais was dismissed, and a phrase gained currency: "It's all Chubais's fault."

The political situation in February 1996, four months before the election, was, to say the least, not favorable for Yeltsin.

Here is Zyuganov at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He's telling the world's elites about the new face of communism and assuring them there won't be any expropriations or forced redistribution. Major world newspapers will call him the "red star of Davos" and emphasize the soothing tone of the Russian communist.

And here's Yeltsin just a few days later. At a public meeting in Yekaterinburg's Youth Palace, he announces he'll be running for re-election. 


This was the moment when the Russian electoral system got kneecapped. The only way to elect a man with a rating tending toward zero was with oceans of money. It outweighed anything that could have prevented his election. But the Family and oligarchs were determined to elect him.

Today, many participants in the events justify themselves by claiming they had no choice and that victory had to be attained at any cost, otherwise Zyuganov would have seized power and led the country into the abyss. But looking back, we can realize that they themselves led the country into the abyss.

Loans for shares

It is impossible to understand the history of modern Russia without mentioning the most shameful event of the Yeltsin era, a crime of unprecedented proportions that made Russians poorer and more powerless. And it transformed a very small group of people into the most influential and wealthy, granting them permission to do as they please.

It was called "loans for shares," and it involved selling off all of the country's most important industries in brazenly corrupt pseudo-auctions. At the time, the state desperately needed money to fund salaries, social benefits, and pensions, not to mention the war in Chechnya. Moreover, the elections were just around the corner. The coffers were about to run dry when a few businessmen and bankers came up with a simple solution.

The state owned extremely valuable oil and metal companies that, by law, could not be sold. But they could be temporarily pledged in exchange for loans.

In theory, it was like a mortgage: the bank gives you a loan, and if you don't pay it back on time, they take the house away from you. If you do pay it back, the house is yours. There's competition among lenders: one participant offers 100 rubles, the second offers 150, and the third offers 200. Naturally, the apartment owner chooses the most advantageous option. In other words, the winner is the one who offers the highest loan amount.

But that's just the theory. In practice, there was no honest competition and no auctions. The participants just got together and decided how to distribute the companies among themselves. Most disgracefully, the state had no intention of ever repaying the loans. The auctions were a fiction meant to conceal the backroom privatization of the country's most valuable companies.

But here's the thing. There's a hidden aspect to the loans-for-shares. They're scheduled for November-December of 1995, and the government will receive the money. But isn't that just like taking out a loan? Essentially, another year is granted to pay it back. And it's only by the autumn of 1996 that, if the loan isn't repaid, the winners can become the true owners of the pledged enterprises. Until then, there are no guarantees. It's a kind of delayed effect.

And what would happen between December 1995 and December 1996? The presidential election. If Yeltsin lost to the Communist Party's Zyuganov, for example, the deal would be canceled. To get their loot, the "auction winners" needed Yeltsin to be re-elected.

Vladimir Potanin

The banker Vladimir Potanin first presented the loans-for-shares scheme to the government in March 1995. Today, he's an oligarch with a net worth of around $30 billion. In 1995, he was 34 and was a banker. Together with another future oligarch, Prokhorov, they established Onexim Bank. Both Potanin and Prokhorov represent the Soviet elite, the golden youth of their time. Potanin was from the ranks of the nomenklatura: his father had been a diplomat and worked abroad. Potanin himself studied at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and then worked for the Ministry of Foreign Trade, where he made valuable contacts. Apparently, for this reason other bankers chose him as the chief negotiator for the loans-for-shares scheme.

Anatoly Chubais and Alfred Koch

Potanin managed to quickly sell the idea to Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais and other members of the government. A young civil servant from the St. Petersburg City Administration, Alfred Kokh, was entrusted with managing the pseudo-auctions.

After Yeltsin signed the decree on loans for shares, Potanin invited bankers who wanted to participate to his office. He told them to choose the companies they liked and put them on the list for privatization. In this way, they quietly distributed all the state property several months before the actual auctions.

Here's how the banker Alexander Smolensky, who was present, described these meetings:

Look, there were 30,000 enterprises to privatize. I could have picked any one of them. I could also choose any factory. There were 30,000 enterprises up for loans for shares. I sat for hours in their office. Because Potanin was put in charge of the oligarchy by the government.

Aleksandr Smolensky

There, in Potanin's office in building 11 on Masha Poryvayeva, a select group of people could choose whichever of 30,000 state enterprises they wanted, as if ordering from a menu.

Potanin chose Norilsk Nickel, a huge mining and smelting company that had been built up by prisoners during Stalin's time. It was estimated to account for up to 2% of the country's GDP.

Norilsk Nickel

Potanin's Onexim Bank was commissioned to organize the auction for Nornickel. It accepted bids, collected loans, and examined the documents of the potential creditors. In the end, only three companies were allowed to participate in the auction — and, believe it or not, all were owned by Potanin. Two of them offered the minimum bid of $170 million. Onexim Bank itself offered $100,000 more and won the bid. So Potanin first lobbied for this scheme, then organized an auction, and then won it, paying only a small fraction of the company's actual value.

As it happened, another bank had tried to take part in the Nornickel auction, bidding twice as much as Onexim. However, the Federal Agency for State Property Management, headed by Alfred Kokh, invalidated the bid after finding some mistakes in the documents.

Yukos. Created in 1993 when the the oil-producing Yuganskneftegaz and the refinery Kuibyshevnefteorgsintez merged, it became one of Russia's biggest companies. In December 1995, the state pledged 45% of Yukos at an initial price of $150 million, yielding two bids submitted by the same person, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. His own bank, Menatep, organized the auction, and other bidders were not allowed to take part.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Khodorkovsky was 32 years old. He already had solid banking experience and government service with the rank of deputy minister behind him, and at the heart of it all was an impressive career in the Komsomol.

While a student, he had become deputy secretary of his university's Komsomol committee. At the height of perestroika, when it was no longer necessary to take an oath to the Communist Party, Khodorkovsky rose further to become deputy secretary of the Komsomol committee of the Frunzensky District. While in the Komsomol, the local "Scientific-Technical Center for Youth Creativity" was created.

Sounds like the typical Soviet "house of culture" where people sang, drew and danced, but it's actually a late Soviet officialese. In reality, these youth creative centers were involved in business — small-scale trading, financial transactions, and they were given preferential conditions by the state.

The opening of the center led the 24-year-old Khodorkovsky to found the Menatep cooperative in 1987, which was to develop into a full-fledged bank within a few years. Compared to other banks, Menatep stood out for its bold, brash PR, with ads emphasizing success and getting rich quickly. Menatep produced flattering documentaries about itself and bought placements on the covers of major publications.

In addition to Norilsk Nickel and Yukos, 51% of the Siberian-Far Eastern Oil Company, "Sidanko," was also privatized during the loans for shares. The name may not be familiar because such a company no longer exists: shortly after the auction, it went bankrupt and was dismantled into pieces. Then, "Sidanko" also ended up in the hands of Potanin (and Prokhorov). Friedman's Alfa-Bank also wanted to participate, but Potanin offered them a deal: if they withdrew their application, he would share the shares with them after winning.

There were other applications as well, but Alfred Koch, the representative of the Federal Agency for State Property Management, rejected them because the bid for participation was sent 23 minutes after the deadline.

And now we come to the most important lot. Here is the decree of the Federal Agency for State Property Management from September 25, 1995, with a list of companies whose shares were up for grabs. But something big is missing — Sibneft.

The company wasn't supposed to be pledged at all; it was to remain state property. Berezovsky pushed through the decision to add it at the last minute.

Testimony at the London court shows that Berezovsky went to Alfred Kokh's office at night, where they prepared some documents together, set the date of the auction, and negotiated shares and terms. At the same time, Berezovsky and Abramovich agreed with Khodorkovsky that his bank Menatep would submit a fake competing bid at a lower price.

Just before the New Year, on December 28, 1995, Sibneft's shares were exchanged for $1,300,000 — a symbolic $300,000 over the minimum bid.

A year later, the loans came due, but of course, the state didn't repay them. Instead, the winners of loans for shares took over the companies, thereby becoming the richest people in the country and in the world. In total, the state only raised $800–900 million in 12 auctions in exchange for dozens of oil deposits, refineries, the largest nickel and palladium facilities in the world, and mining shipping companies. All of these unique businesses built up over decades were given away for roughly as much as Putin spends on a yacht today. His palace in Gelendzhik cost more than everything that was auctioned off.

It gets even worse. The money that the victorious banks "pledged" to the state was, in fact, the state's own money. The banks that participated in the auctions held a special "authorized" status, and their deposit accounts held funds from the Ministry of Finance, the customs authority, the tax authority, and the very companies that were auctioned. In other words, the state was lending money to itself. The new oligarchs paid for the companies with the companies' own earnings. No new funds were borrowed. Obviously, the state's goal was not to get revenue.

And we knew that every factory sold was a nail in the coffin of the Communists. Expensive, cheap, free, with a fee — that wasn't a question at all.

Anatoly Chubais

The Writers' Affair 

Loans for shares also has an important epilogue, without which the story would be incomplete. It has to do with a book edited by Chubais, Privatization the Russian Way. In 1997, it emerged that five contributors, including the organizers of loans for shares, Kokh and Chubais, received $450,000 for the book — $90,000 apiece. 

The money came from a publishing house owned by Vladimir Potanin, the main beneficiary of the scheme. This was an unbelievable amount of money, especially given that the book wasn't really even a book, but a collection of narrowly focused articles on economics. Still worse was the fact that when the story came out, nothing had been published. In an attempt to justify themselves, the authors talked about the remarkable scientific value of their work.

In an attempt to justify himself, Chubais shook a thin bundle of paper and declared.

This is a foundational monograph that will answer the most important questions about the development of private property in Russia.

Anatoly Chubais

However, it was obvious to everyone that it wasn't a monograph, but a thin disguise for bribes disguised as royalties. All the official authors with the exception of Chubais resigned from their positions, and the project seemingly evaporated. (The book was published only two years later, in 1999.) The "Writers' Affair" was one of modern Russia's first major corruption scandals.

Chubais shows the book to Sergei Dorenko

The public outrage was understandable. Back then, a university professor made $100 dollars a month and a minister perhaps 500 — and here were civil servants getting $90,000 for ten-page articles. Some details about the relationship between the author of the book Alfred Koch and the winners of the loans-for-shares became known thanks to the materials from the Berezovsky and Abramovich court case in London.

Full version available via the link

The document contains four columns: transcripts of the conversation in English and Russian and clarifying comments by Berezovsky and Abramovich. On page 36, Abramovich mentioned payments he made for a certain "Alik," then explained that Alik was Alfred Kokh from the Federal Agency for State Property Management. He had a $14 million loan to repay, and Abramovich paid it for him.

But it was even more complicated. In court, Abramovich says that in reality, another participant in the loans-for-shares scheme, Potanin, owed money to Koch himself. But Potanin didn't pay, and they had a conflict. When Berezovsky and Koch were skiing in Courchevel, Berezovsky promised to settle everything. The situation is quite remarkable. A former official responsible for the loans-for-shares auctions, a couple of years later, is handling business matters with three winners of these auctions, lending and borrowing tens of millions of dollars, while they help him sort out his own problems.

This is why I told him: get out of this affair as best you can. I shall personally cover all your losses for this trial [or process]. Everything that Potanin had promised to pay you, and it amounted to 14 million, there was something else, well, 14 million, I shall cover for you myself.

Roman Abramovich

Quotation from the London court transcript

Loans for shares was the biggest corruption story in modern Russian history, and its significance wasn't just economic. Meant to be merely a huge financial scam, it ended up completely reshaping Russia and changing the way it functions. It laid the foundation for all the corruption that followed, including that of Putin himself.

How did Abramovich pay his bribe? With money from Sibneft. Sibneft is also where the former deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov, who loves palaces and takes his corgis on a private jet, got his money: he worked as a lawyer for Abramovich on the loans-for-shares scheme, and many years later, when questions arise over Shuvalov's extravagant lifestyle, he said that Abramovich gave him 0.5% of Sibneft shares as options in 1996.

Roman Abramovich and Igor Shuvalov

Or take Senator Andrei Klishas, known for writing tough laws and rewriting the constitution for Putin. How did he get into the Federation Council? Where did he get his mind-boggling palaces and villas in Switzerland? In 1995, he was a lawyer working for the state and was involved in the Nornickel privatization process. Potanin liked him very much and hired him at Onexim. He rose together with his patron: Potanin himself was appointed first deputy prime minister of Russia six months after the auctions (around the same time that Berezovsky became deputy secretary of the Security Council).

Andrey Klishas

The oligarchs owe all their staggering wealth — their soccer clubs, yachts, villas, and offshore billions — to loans for shares. Putin's oligarchs created nothing, invented nothing, and built nothing. They simply appropriated Soviet companies and started taking money out of them.

Despite the common claim that Yeltsin was not corrupt, he benefited enormously from the auctions: it was only thanks to them that he defied expectations and managed to stay in power. If trading enormous national resources for electoral support isn't corruption, what is?

The 1996 election

Yeltsin's election campaign was financed with a huge amount of illegally sourced money — boxes of off-the-books cash in unlimited quantities. Everything was bought: journalists, TV shows, newspapers, singers, actors, and even other candidates.

Chubais collected the money. In February 1996, he went to Davos as a private citizen and witnessed Zyuganov's fine speech. For the Russian oligarchs, who were also present, it was a nightmare coming true. If Zyuganov was elected in June, there would be nothing left of their plans or their wealth: no banks, no Sibneft, no Nornickel, no Yukos.

Berezovsky met his worst enemy and rival, Vladimir Gusinsky, at the forum. He owned the bank Most and the new broadcaster NTV. They decided to let bygones be bygones and work together to get Yeltsin elected. Khodorkovsky and other businessmen joined them. In Davos they also met the person who would become the head of this freshly minted campaign headquarters: Anatoly Chubais, who, as fortune would have it, had just lost his job.

I met with Chubais and proposed that he consider the idea of creating a powerful pre-election group to support Yeltsin, primarily by uniting those wealthy individuals who were the result of his privatization. Chubais immediately appreciated this idea and said, "I agree.

Boris Berezovsky

In 2020, Khodorkovsky revealed how they had persuaded Chubais to join them. He was paid $3 million dollars.


Khodorkovsky later wrote on Facebook that they had pooled their money and paid Chubais to go to Yeltsin and persuade him to let them run the campaign. It was Valentin Yumashev's idea.

But let me elaborate: as part of the Russian business community, we personally paid you (you were unemployed at the time), as per your request, 3 million dollars (I clarified it) for you to approach Yeltsin, persuade him to establish a new campaign headquarters, and join the team there. If I remember correctly, Yumashev suggested this, stating that only you could persuade Yeltsin.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

The bankers gathered at the Kremlin to meet with Yeltsin in March 1996. At this meeting, Yeltsin was told the harsh truth: he was doing badly, and the only way he'd win if the campaign is entrusted to bankers, Chubais, and a certain analytical group assembled by them: a team of managers, sociologists, political technologists, and journalists.

But Yeltsin already had a campaign staff headed by his closest friends: his bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov, the head of the FSB, Mikhail Barsukov, and Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets. It seemed impossible to oppose Yeltsin's closest associates.

In contrast, most of these bankers were meeting Yeltsin for the first time. To get control of the campaign, their shadow headquarters needed a trump card, something that would make Yeltsin listen to them. That trump card was Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko.

LogoVAZ reception house

I honestly can't remember the day I met her, but I met her thanks to Yumashev. I think it was in LogoVAZ's office. He came to have lunch with her one day, but I don't remember the exact day.

Boris Berezovsky

About the acquaintance with Tatiana Yumasheva

Novokuznetskaya 40 is a beautiful 19th-century mansion in the heart of Moscow. Today, it houses a fashion store, and there's almost nothing to remind you of the old days. But it used to be an icon of '90s Moscow — the office of Boris Berezovsky.

LogoVAZ office

More precisely, it was a reception house, something that was fashionable in the '90s. It looked like a private club for high society — a gentlemen's salon with a luxurious interior. Meetings and conferences were held here all the time. It had its own restaurant with dishes from all over the world and a bar with expensive drinks (though, of course, everything was free for Boris Abramovich's guests).

Businesspeople, civil servants, and politicians spent hours in the reception room waiting to see Berezovsky, who was always late. The famous General Lebed was made to sit there for a particularly long time while Berezovsky watched him through a slit, enjoying the power play. He cultivated relationships with politicians of every stripe, as well as with journalists: Sergei Dorenko, Alexander Nevzorov. Vladimir Pozner came to collect the fees Berezovsky paid him for his programs. Abramovich, it is said, practically slept here.

Tatiana Diachenko, Boris Yeltsin, Valentin Yumashev

It was the nerve center of Yeltsin's unofficial campaign. But the LogoVAZ reception house had two guests more powerful than the rest: Valentin Yumashev and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana.

In fact, practically all the important political events of the mid-'90s unfolded in this substitute Kremlin.


The idea of involving Yeltsin's daughter in the election was ingenious in its simplicity. She was completely unknown, a mathematician without the slightest experience in politics or public life. But professionalism and expertise weren't the point: her value lay in the fact that she could pick up the phone at any time and tell her father exactly what she had been asked to. And most importantly, he would trust his daughter. 

She was the most important channel of communication with Yeltsin. Any decisions from Chubais's headquarters could swiftly reach the president, his reaction was immediately understood, and actions were taken accordingly. As his daughter, she had absolute trust, so her role is indispensable.

Boris Berezovsky

The famous incident with the Xerox box illustrates how this worked. Yeltsin's official campaign (headed by Korzhakov and Barsukov) was trying to destroy their rivals, Chubais's team. They organized an ambush in the House of Government, catching a subordinate of Chubais and another employee walking out with a box containing half a million dollars. Look, Boris Nikolayevich — look how those people are stealing money! The ensuing scandal would lead to the dissolution of Chubais's headquarters and even arrests.

Tatyana called her parents at night. Yeltsin was already asleep, so she spoke to her mother, Naina.


Tatyana was in the reception house of LogoVAZ and was repeating what she was being told by him, Gusinsky, Chubais, and the rest. Despite a total lack of authority, the president's daughter was demanding the dismissal of the heads of the FSB and Yeltsin's security service and Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets — not merely the president's closest friends, but literally the entire leadership of the country's power bloc, or siloviki.

The next morning, Yeltsin fired them.


That's roughly how it will work from now on. The oligarchs, Chubais, and Yumashev had whispered in Tatiana's ear what to say, and she repeated it to her father.

Black cash of the elections

Since the documents regarding the Yeltsin election's black cash never saw the light of day, we'll have to collect information gradually, relying on witness testimony.

Alexander Smolensky, the head of Capital Bank, said in what appears to be his only interview that ten companies were selected and each of them contributed $50 million to Yeltsin's campaign.


Another banker, the late Vladimir Vinogradov of Inkombank, said in interviews that he gave at least $10 million.

Khodorkovsky now says he didn't contribute any money, but his junior partner Leonid Nevzlin, remembers differently.


The transcripts from London's High Court reveal that Abramovich transferred about $80 million to Berezovsky in 1996, though their agreement had been for $30 million per year. The extra $50 million was, apparently, earmarked for the election. Imperial Bank was asked for another $12 million, which, not surprisingly, irritated its owner.


Some were forced, some were pressured, and others contributed more or less voluntarily, because the money wasn't actually theirs, but state money held in authorized private banks.

The most refined of the elite, like Pyotr Aven, the owner of Alfa-Bank, could appreciate the beauty of the deal: they were paying for Yeltsin's campaign, and in the future they'd be exempt from audits and problems with the tax authorities.


One rarely finds such a clear confession of pure corruption.

Let's look at what the oligarchs were paying for, item by item. First, celebrities. Yeltsin's unofficial headquarters attracted literally all of the biggest stars of the time. Putin's "authorized representatives" and the grandiose concerts they put on today don't even come close to the scale of Yeltsin's "Vote or Lose" campaign.

Pugacheva, Allegrova, Leontiev, Kirkorov, Agutin, Valeria, and bands like Agata Kristi, Bravo, and Lyube — it's hard to find singers who weren't involved in the campaign. They traveled the country giving concerts and press conferences and urging people to vote. Actors and directors also took part in the "agitation."


The popular TV presenters Yakubovich and Nikolayev flew from Moscow to Novokuznetsk in a plane with "Yeltsin is our president" written on the wing.

Special attention was paid to young people who weren't interested in politics and didn't normally go to the polls. The super-popular group Malchishnik recorded a hit called "Vote or Lose" and rapped in front of graffiti featuring Yeltsin's face.

Russia's first music channel, Muz-TV, was launched in May 1996, though the music was actually just an excuse for nonstop pro-Yeltsin propaganda.

This was a PR breakthrough funded by Xerox boxes full of cash. Everyone was fighting for the youth, but none could compete with the Yeltsin operation. The best Zyuganov could do was the group Laskovyi Mai, whose popularity had peaked ten years before. And here's how Yavlinsky tried to attract young people.


The second thing the oligarchs were paying for was television. Two members of Yeltsin's unofficial headquarters controlled ORT (Berezovsky) and NTV (Gusinsky). The third major broadcaster, RTR, was state-owned. This triad was enough to win any election, because TV was the electorate's most important source of information. Yeltsin was featured constantly on every screen. 


There were endless dreary commercials with the slogan "I believe, I love, I hope" and special projects such as an episode of Field of Wonders two days before the final election battle with puppets representing the candidates. They were guessing the word "Russia." Yeltsin won, and the final question was: "Who will win the presidential election the day after tomorrow?"


This is what the deal with Berezovsky was about. In exchange for such broadcasts, he was allowed to take half of the country's wealth. Russian journalism and the news industry soon became what they are today — an endless fake election ad. Yeltsin laid the rails, and Putin has been riding the train for 24 years now.

Third, vicious black PR against Zyuganov. He wasn't just a bad politician or a weak manager, but the devil incarnate, one step away from destroying the entire country.

Here is the famous newspaper "God forbid!", which Yeltsin's headquarters secretly published and distributed 10 million copies of. It was printed abroad, brought across the border, and left in mailboxes. The message was that if Zyuganov came to power, the apocalypse would follow. It's the same basic blueprint Putin's media machine has followed in every election since. Incidentally, it was the journalists from Kommersant who wrote it.

Beyond newspapers, posters were put up outside stores. The most famous one was "Buy food for the last time."

Yeltsin's headquarters even paid for the publication of a book called Lenin Declassified about the horrors of communism and Lenin's psychopathy.

The fourth winning ingredient was the bribery of competitors. There were ten candidates on the electoral list for this election: Yeltsin, Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, Lebed, Yavlinsky, Gorbachev, Fedorov, Shakkum, Vlasov, and Bryntsalov.

Alexander Lebed was the most interesting. He was 46 years old, a general with an impressive career who had served in Afghanistan and commanded the Russian army in Transnistria. He always wore camouflage or a dress uniform with medals. Tall and statuesque, he had a very deep voice and spoke slowly but clearly. He seemed like a strong figure who would bring order to the country and end the war in Chechnya.


Yeltsin's headquarters quickly realized that Lebed could play a decisive role. Chubais states that it was Berezovsky's idea, "from beginning to end." They used him as a spoiler — he would take votes from Zyuganov in order to transfer them to Yeltsin if necessary. In return, Lebed was paid for his participation and promised a position in the new government.

From that moment on, ORT began to boost Lebed as well as Yeltsin. He had a high-quality and well-funded campaign, and his popularity soared among those who might have supported Zyuganov. The finances came from Vladimir Vinogradov of Inkombank, who later said he spent $10 million on Lebed. The whole operation was coordinated with Chubais and Yeltsin's headquarters.

On election day, June 16, 1996, Yeltsin received 35% of the vote, Zyuganov 32%, Lebed 14.5%, and Yavlinsky 7%. A second round was scheduled (for the first and last time in Russian history) for July 3. The two weeks until then were a time of frantic campaigning.


Then, suddenly, Yeltsin disappeared. No more concerts, dances, or speeches. Old recordings were shown on television, and interviews were only published in written form. At the decisive moment, the main candidate simply disappeared.

Immediately after the first round, Yeltsin had suffered a heart attack. He was bedridden. Today, his daughter talks about it quite casually, but back then, only a few people in the country knew the truth — his closest relatives, Valentin Yumashev, and Chubais — and they decided to conceal Yeltsin's heart attack, even from their colleagues at headquarters and voters.

They lied on television that Yeltsin had just lost his voice and couldn't speak. They pretended that he was still working and holding meetings, which they filmed at his house. The furniture was arranged to look like an office, and they dragged Yeltsin out of bed and propped him up in chairs. The logic was simple: if we have to elect Yeltsin's corpse in order not to lose power, so be it.

Yeltsin won in the second round. He voted from a health resort outside Moscow made up so it would look like an ordinary polling station on television.

The inauguration was in August 1996. Serious, gloomy, and unsmiling, Yeltsin spoke very little — his speech lasted just 45 seconds.


But the architects of his victory couldn't hold back their feelings. They had succeeded. They were still swimming in money and knew that they, and not the president, would be calling the shots.


It's hard to believe, but participants of those events still don't understand what was wrong with those elections and that campaign. Very often you can hear that the end justifies the means, and it was deemed necessary to organize the 1996 elections that way.

Every time I want to ask: Well, guys, if you know about any improper methods, then at least tell me, what were they? I don't know them, explain it to me.

Anatoly Chubais

Billions of dollars from oligarchs spent on illegal campaigning — that's improper and illegal methods. Backroom deals, television loyalty exchanged for Sibneft — that's improper methods. An incapacitated, deeply ill, and alcoholic person presented as the savior of Russia — isn't it obvious what's wrong with that?

"Zyug Heil," "Buy food for the last time" is what's wrong. Voters have been brainwashed. They've been deceived.

There were no speeches about a choice between returning to the Soviet Union or embracing a bright democratic future with Yeltsin. Chubais, Tatyana Dyachenko, Yumashev, and the oligarchs invented this narrative, creating a fake alternative. Restoring the USSR was impossible, and a democratic future with Yeltsin simply never happened.

Enough years have passed to say it: Yeltsin did not win the 1996 election fairly. It was stolen by those who were holding the flag of democracy. But the gap between elections in which decent people cheat a little, for a good cause, "for democracy," and elections in which political opponents get imprisoned and killed is tiny. Yeltsin's great democratic victory ushered in oligarchs, KGB men, and Putin.

There was another important trick that seemed insignificant at the time. Three elections were to be held on June 16: the presidential election and the Moscow and St. Petersburg mayoral elections.

In the last of these, Anatoly Sobchak was running for re-election. Although he was also a democrat and was on the same wavelength as Yeltsin, their relationship was cold and tense.

Sobchak was very independent, fairly popular, and unpredictable. Yeltsin's team decided to hold the elections on different days to avoid associating Yeltsin with him. Thus, on March 12, Yeltsin signed a decree moving the mayoral election in St. Petersburg up to May 19. Firmly believing in his own victory, he lost the election. He would never hold office again.

His chief of staff, Deputy Mayor Vladimir Putin, went down with him. His career had ended unexpectedly, and now, his prospects unclear, he had to look for a new job.

Part III

The successor

The Apartment on the Moika

In the early '90s, every second apartment in central St. Petersburg was a kommunalka, a communal apartment. A family might live in one room, with a shared toilet and kitchen. However, there were also those who lived under vastly different circumstances. The mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, along with his wife and daughter, lived in a 117-square-meter apartment (approximately 1,250 square feet), located two minutes away from Palace Square and the Hermitage.

But even this apartment eventually seemed a bit cramped to them. They bought and resettled the neighboring kommunalka. Their new, enlarged apartment was 246 square meters (2,650 square feet) for three people.

Anatoly Sobchak, Ksenia Sobchak, and Lyudmila Narusova

Can 128 extra square meters cost a career? For Sobchak, they did. Can four extra rooms and three bathrooms change the history of a country? As it turns out, they can.

We all came from the Soviet Union, and there was a temptation that was hard to resist. An apartment is the greatest asset, the most valuable thing a person has. When we moved here, it was a big apartment with three bedrooms. I thought: if we get another apartment in our name, people will start asking questions, so we registered it to people we knew and trusted. That precaution ended up playing a fatal role. I never even imagined it could escalate to such an extent, that it could lead to such fatal consequences. I set this fire with my own hands. If only I had known.

Lyudmila Narusova

St. Petersburg in the early 1990s was nothing like it is today. The city was dirt-poor and falling apart. Factories were closing, there was no work, wages were not being paid. The worst was that in the early days, right after the collapse of the USSR, there wasn't enough food coming into the city to feed the population.

As during World War II, humanitarian aid was brought in from abroad — the US and Germany. Hundreds of thousands of tons of the most basic foodstuffs were imported: canned food, sugar, oil, and flour.

The real owners of St. Petersburg were thugs and criminal gangs. Contract killings, shootings, brawls — that was the order of the day in St. Petersburg.

Anatoly Sobchak during the August Coup, 1991

And yet political life in St. Petersburg was no less dynamic than in Moscow, mostly thanks to the man who became the city's first mayor: Anatoly Sobchak. On June 12, 1991, the same day that Yeltsin became president, Sobchak became mayor of Leningrad, which would soon be renamed.

Sobchak was a true public politician who wasn't afraid to address the crowds at rallies. He was undoubtedly a very prominent political figure of that time. Not just on a city level, but on a federal scale. Together with Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Sakharov, he was a symbol of perestroika and democratic change. He was also a scholar and professor of law at Leningrad University. He was elected a people's deputy in 1989, at the same time as Yeltsin. Both were members of the Inter-Regional Group of Deputies, which was essentially the first legal Soviet parliamentary opposition.

But Sobchak also had major political problems. As good as he was at giving speeches and working crowds, he was helpless when it came to actually running a city. This became clear very quickly. Sobchak loved to talk, but his words weren't followed by action.

The city was in effect handed over to his deputies, first and foremost to the KGB veteran Vladimir Putin. Soon the entire office of Mayor Sobchak, today's political elite, became mere servants of the mafiosos who were actually in charge in St. Petersburg. To get anything approved or any document issued, you had to talk to Putin, and then he would write down how much it would cost on a slip of paper. The money was moved via Alexei Miller.

Sobchak's second problem was his lifestyle. He was the prototype of everything we imagine today when we hear words such as "Duma deputy," "minister," or "United Russia." Sobchak looked like the richest, most stylish man in town, showing up at fancy events with a glamorous wife who shocked everyone with her outfits.

Of course, it was annoying — how could it not be? Sobchak and Narusova were out of the league of mere civil servants. They were the elite, the beau monde. There were endless receptions and parties with supermodels. In 1994, Sobchak personally presided over the wedding of two of the country's most famous people — the singers Alla Pugacheva and Filipp Kirkorov. The banquet was organized by Putin.

Narusova, Sobchak, Pugacheva, and Kirkorov

Let's linger for a moment on the Sobchaks' personal palace on the Moika. It was as much a museum as an apartment. It was like a garish antique market where emperors shop: gold everywhere, oak furniture, candelabras, and portraits of the masters themselves in golden frames.

And even according to the documentation, they owned not only an apartment: the Sobchaks' daughter Ksenia filed a declaration referring to a non-residential space of 122.5 square meters. Do you have any ideas of what it is? It's a huge loft in the same building on the Moika River, which is also owned by Sobchak's family. This was something like a creative studio. Apparently, there was no room for creativity in the enormous 250-square-meter apartment below.

At the end of his first term as mayor, Sobchak was not very popular in the Kremlin. Yeltsin's entourage and law enforcement officials (especially Korzhakov) frequently belitteled Sobchak, convinced Yeltsin it was better not to be associated with him, and even initiated criminal proceedings. Hence the decision to hold the elections separately: Sobchak might supposedly become dead weight and bring Yeltsin down.

Looking back after 25 years, it is clear that he was not dead weight. The two politicians were simply rivals. Sobchak remained quite popular, he was independent, he was loved in the West. There was something elusively presidential about Sobchak. He and Yeltsin seemed to be of comparable stature.

Sobchak approached election day with full confidence that he would be re-elected. His unexpected main rival was his own deputy, Vladimir Yakovlev: a tough businessman with no name recognition and the charisma of a used-car salesman. Sobchak didn't campaign much.

Sobchak's campaign, for which Putin, Kudrin, and Narusova worked, insisted that Sobchak was a world-famous mayor, while Yakovlev was a nobody who'd been propped up by "Moscow moneybags." "Mercantile Moscow will defeat enlightened St. Petersburg," Sobchak's flyers said. "St. Petersburg will wither away while Moscow gets even richer."

Campaign posters featured vouchers for soap — a warning that rationing would return if Sobchak wasn't elected. In response, Yakovlev's headquarters hit him where it hurt: "Yakovlev or the party animal?" The one who talks, or the one who gets things done? Here Yakovlev is depicted as a hard-working ant saying "shoo" to the frivolous dragonfly Sobchak, who has a wine glass in his paws.

At this point, the housing scandal broke. The luxurious apartment on the Moika and other property found to be registered to Sobchak's relatives and acquaintances became the main talking point of the campaign against him. Sobchak was accused of corruption and abusing his position to enrich himself.

In the first round of the vote, Sobchak received 29% and Yakovlev 22%. But Sobchak couldn't hold on to his lead.

It was the televised debates that got him. At first, it seemed the game was being played on Sobchak's field. As everyone knew, he was an excellent polemicist and reacted quickly and sharply, with oratorical skills and a lot of experience.

But in these debates, he proved surprisingly weak. Yakovlev interrupted his stories about high politics and values with questions about how much a janitor earns. Sobchak, of course, did not know. Yakovlev responded to Sobchak's long monologues with popular sayings.


In the second round on June 2, Sobchak lost to Yakovlev by 1.7%.

Members of Sobchak's team explained his defeat by saying he hadn't prepared at all and just assumed nothing could go wrong. Anatoly Alexandrovich himself found a more interesting explanation: it was those damn clairvoyants.

Yakovlev at first flatly refused to debate. But then they insisted. They started insisting after finding a clairvoyant who was strong enough, and they put up a very strong barrier during the debates. I felt out of place during the debates.

Anatoly Sobchak

Vladimir Putin, Sobchak's deputy, who resigned after his boss, worked in the mayor's office until July and then moved to his dacha in the now famous Ozero cooperative. Sobchak had promised him an ambassadorial post, which didn't come through. Immediately after his move, while Putin and his friends were sitting in the sauna, a fire broke out and the house burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. In short, total hopelessness — but it didn't last long. After four weeks he took up a new post in Moscow. And exactly three years later, he would be appointed Yeltsin's successor.

The Family

The first thing Yeltsin did after taking office was disappear again. An explanation appeared only a month later, when Yeltsin admitted in an interview that he had serious health problems.

I want us to have a society of truth, that is, not to hide what was previously hidden. I had a checkup and was diagnosed with heart disease. The doctors recommended either surgery or passive work, but I have never been satisfied with passive work. […] I'm really counting on Russians' support.

Boris Yeltsin

Pay attention to the phrasing. A routine checkup. The heart problem was discovered by chance. Not a word about the heart attack between the first and second rounds of the election, which had been concealed from the voters. Yeltsin's forthcoming operation and his health were the main topic of discussion in Russia in the coming months.

Yeltsin in the hospital

While the surgery went well, he would never again have a regular work routine. In his second term, Yeltsin bore little resemblance to his former self. He worked for a few hours a day, not necessarily every day, and often disappeared for stretches. He frequently grappled with new health issues and treatments. Everyone knew that Yeltsin was unable to fulfill his duties. He'd been elected for a second term he was unfit for from day one.

Tanya and Valya

The responsibilities of the president were assumed by a group referred to as the Family. At its core were Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, who took on the role of the president's counselor, and Valentin Yumashev, initially an advisor who swiftly ascended to become the head of the Presidential Administration.

Tanya and Valya, as they were now dubbed, emerged as the leaders of a select group wielding paramount authority in Russia. They oversaw all decisions, ranging from determining the visitors permitted to see Yeltsin in the hospital to appointing prime ministers and facilitating Yeltsin's premature resignation. And they were the ones who chose Putin.

Oligarchs' feast

The structure of the Family was strikingly simple. Surrounding Tanya and Valya and a handful of close officials were the oligarchs, whose presence and proximity varied over time. They socialized together, vacationed together, and shared leisurely moments barbecuing at their dachas.

Yesterday's bankers had evolved into bona fide oligarchs, their wealth bolstered by their power. They began perceiving themselves as Russia's rightful rulers, because they're the ones who helped Yeltsin get re-elected in 1996. They seek to dictate government appointments and leadership positions in state corporations and even to shape legislation. Every decision now required their approval.

They got their first yachts, airplanes, and foreign estates. Thanks to special passes approved by Yumashev, they had unrestricted access to the Kremlin.

Berezovsky's pass (for access to the Presidential Administration)

The statements of various high-ranking government officials, who were observers of all these events, give us a sense of the oligarchs' degree of influence in those days.

I began to feel the influence of those people commonly referred to as oligarchs in 1996, shortly after assuming the role of minister of finance. I was summoned and told everything. There were about eight or nine of them gathered in one of the major banks […] and one of them told me bluntly: "We put Yeltsin in power. This is our country and you'll abide by our instructions." […] They handed me a list of demands, including that all decisions, including the appointment of personnel in the ministry, had to be approved by them. Not a single step could be taken without their consent, and so on. I asked what would happen if I refused. "Then you won't be finance minister." That's it. In the end, that's exactly how it played out.

Alexander Livshits

Minister of Finance (1996–1997)

Through Berezovsky, they said: "Hey, what government are you talking about? We're the government. Stop being ridiculous and just relax. We're the ones who govern Russia. Me and Vova Gusinsky. You better follow our orders. Just like Valya and Tanya — they do what we say, no questions asked."

Alfred Kokh

Deputy Prime Minister (1997)

We decided to sell Svyazinvest fairly. […] Chubais and I decided that there would be an auction, an open competition to which foreigners would also be admitted. We needed money, we wanted to sell it at a high price. […] Suddenly I got a call, and Tatyana Borisovna said to me: "Have you discussed this decision with the guys?" I asked: "Which guys?" "Well, Boris Abramych [Berezovsky], Vladimir Alexandrovich [Gusinsky]." I said, "Are you crazy? Who are they?" And then she finished by saying, "You don't understand anything out there in Nizhny Novgorod."

Boris Nemtsov

First Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation in 1997

Does this sound like a democracy worth rigging the 1996 election for?

The Svyazinvest incident that Nemtsov referred to is an important story. A telecommunications giant that serviced the entire country was put up for sale.

Potanin and Gusinsky vied with Berezovsky for control of it. They reached an agreement among themselves and with Chubais, the deputy prime minister who was overseeing privatization. Conditions were set: Gusinsky was to win the auction, while Potanin would pose as a competitor and submit a lower bid. On the day of the auction, however, Potanin unexpectedly outbid Gusinsky by a hundred million dollars. The scuffle between oligarchs quickly escalated into a brawl.

But instead of targeting Potanin, ORT and NTV, owned by Gusinsky and Berezovsky, respectively, ran endless stories attacking the officials who oversaw the auction. Within a few months, this information war led to the fall of the entire government of young reformers.

Berezovsky and Gusinsky

Nemtsov, who was only minimally involved in the privatization, bore the brunt of the fallout. He was louder than anyone else in saying that the oligarchs had usurped power. He called on Yeltsin to strip them of their privileges and access to the Kremlin, stop the loans-for-shares scheme, and withdraw state funds from their banks. 

The NTV channel was mocking Nemtsov for several months for wearing light-colored trousers to an official meeting, thereby violating protocol. And the host, Evgeny Kiselyov, on the Itogi ("Results") program, says that throughout the entire year of 1997, Nemtsov only distinguished himself with these pants and a failed attempt to persuade Russian officials to use domestically produced cars. He then puts a bold red cross over Nemtsov's photo. And over his career.

But there was a very interesting optical illusion in this story. It seemed that the high-profile skirmish brought the protagonists into the national spotlight. The most odious of them, Berezovsky, just like in a theatrical play, named the key figures right from the start.

He explicitly named the seven oligarchs who ruled the country at the time: Berezovsky himself, Khodorkovsky, Fridman, Gusinsky, Potanin, Smolensky, and Aven. Their names became widely known, and these "Seven Bankers" came to symbolize this era. However, the most important oligarch and benefactor of the Family was missing from the list.

Valentin Yumashev and Roman Abramovich

Roman Abramovich only came to public attention in 1999, but he had long been a close friend of Yumashev and Tatyana and had considerable influence in the Kremlin. 

Abramovich pursued a clever strategy: he kept a low profile and was the quietest, most unassuming, and most business-oriented of the oligarchs. Unnoticed by others, he gradually and discreetly endeared himself to the Family. Nemtsov recounted his first meeting with Abramovich at the dacha of the president's daughter.

Valya and Tanya sat silently, munching on kebabs with a touch of malice. They were served by some kid I didn't know at the time. I thought he was the cook. But later, I found out he was Roman Abramovich…

Boris Nemtsov

from Elena Tregubova's book "The Tales of a Kremlin Digger"

Nemtsov also described how Abramovich and his colleagues formed a "tight ring" around the two and recalled an instance when Abramovich demanded that he appoint his preferred candidate to head up a state enterprise.

In 1999, the Wall Street Journal uncovered that U.S. law enforcement officials had discovered two secret accounts belonging to Tatyana's former husband, Leonid Dyachenko, in the Cayman Islands. Some of the funds were traced back to the Swiss company Runicom, whose owner was a mystery at the time. Now we can say with certainty that it was Abramovich.

As early as 1999, Abramovich was directly involved in government appointments, as Alexei Venediktov, the head of Ekho Moskvy, told British journalists. In the summer of 1999, during a visit to the Kremlin, Venediktov met several high-ranking officials waiting to be interviewed for ministerial posts by Abramovich himself. Years later, Venediktov questioned Abramovich about that day and the oligarch's role in selecting ministers. Abramovich jokingly deflected and said they were just having friendly conversations.

This took place in August 1999, which means Abramovich was holding talks with candidates for the first government under the new prime minister — Putin.

Putin moves to Moscow

In August 1996, just two months following Sobchak's electoral defeat in St. Petersburg, fate had smiled on the unemployed Putin.

To be honest, I didn't really want to leave St. Petersburg. I consider myself a true St. Petersburger, this city is my home. I had no desire to move. It just turned out that way.

Vladimir Putin

His former colleagues from the mayor's office, Chubais and Kudrin, helped him find a new job in Moscow. Originally, he was offered a position in the press service of the Presidential Administration. However, Putin found the offer unattractive, and his wife also advised him against it. She had two compelling reasons. First, they had just gotten their own large apartment on Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg (and here arises an interesting question: where did the apartment come from?). They hadn't even had the chance to live in it yet. Second, as Lyudmila Putina complained to a friend, the position was pathetic, without opportunities for extra income.

Then another opportunity arose through connections with old acquaintances: a legal position in the Administrative Directorate of the President.

The decision to bring me into the directorate was primarily made by the head of the Directorate himself — Pavel Palych Borodin. Honestly, I was surprised by his warmth toward me. It was entirely his initiative.

Vladimir Putin

Putin, of course, was not actually surprised.

As it turned out, Pavel Palych owed him a favor. In 1995, Borodin's daughter fell ill during her stay in St. Petersburg, and Putin had allegedly helped her get treatment. He recalled that it was inconvenient for him to approach Sobchak himself, but his deputy promised to help. And he did help. He provided his daughter with a car and behaved extremely decently.

But there's another explanation for Borodin's efforts to get Putin a job, and it's more convincing.

At one point, his daughter's husband hit someone with a car in Leningrad while intoxicated. Borodin, who was the head of the Administrative Directorate at the time, received a call. Sobchak instructed Putin. The main concern was to avoid a criminal case and prevent imprisonment. Putin handled the matter. And Borodin, he's the kind of person who always remembers kindness.

Sergey Pugachev

banker, former senator

Putin only spent seven months in the Administrative Directorate. He found the work boring. Less than a year after he took office, in March 1997, Yumashev, Yeltsin's chief of staff, chose Putin as his deputy and put him in charge of the Control Directorate. Prior to this appointment, Putin and Yumashev hadn't met. Putin had been recommended for the role.

When Kudrin and Chubais suggested Putin to me, it wasn't just that they had no doubts. Chubais' description of Putin was that he was an exceptionally talented official I could count on. He was sure this was someone whose work I'd be pleased with.

Valentin Yumashev

Putin's work in the Control Directorate was his lengthiest gig in his Moscow career prior to his presidency, lasting 14 months. His boss said there wasn't much activity in the department, but Putin still managed to make a big impression on him.

However, Putin wasn't fond of this role, either, and attempted to resign on multiple occasions.

Maybe a year after becoming head of the Control Directorate, he came to me and said he wanted to quit. I asked him, "Vladimir Vladimirovich, where do you want to go?" He replied, "I want to be free, because I've spent my whole life so far in the service — first with Sobchak, then in the Kremlin. Saturdays are working days, and Sundays are only half free. I've got a family and kids, I want to quit." I said: "Vladimir Vladimirovich, I won't let you."

Valentin Yumashev

By the end of May 1998, Yumashev had promoted Putin to first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, effectively making him the second-in-command. Putin now oversaw regional affairs, cultivated relationships with governors, and accompanied Yeltsin on official trips. Evidently, it was this role that proved decisive, giving Yeltsin the chance to observe Putin closely and evaluate him as a successor.

I'm sure Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin also noticed Putin's attention to detail, his accurate analysis of situations, his great eloquence, and his behavior in various situations. […] I think that was when Yeltsin realized Putin was the real deal — someone with that much experience, I'm going to keep him in mind.

Valentin Yumashev

A fascinating theory, but it doesn't seem very realistic. Especially when you consider that Putin only held that position for 60 days. How much can you really learn about someone if you've only traveled with them a few times? How can you decide to hand over a country to someone 60 days after meeting them?

Then, on July 25, 1998, Putin, again at Yumashev's urging, was appointed to a position that he finally found appealing: director of the FSB.

Putin's tenure at the FSB would be short, lasting only one year. Then, in August 1999, Yeltsin declared Putin the new prime minister and his chosen successor.


Even with thousands of pages of memoirs from those involved and dozens of hours of interviews, it's still not clear how Putin managed to make such a profound impression on everyone in such a short time. What did he accomplish, given how short all of his stints were? How was he able to get hired at the Administrative Directorate, then the Presidential Administration, then the FSB, and then the government, all while directly mixed up in criminal activities? Why did no one ever look into this?

Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin

There were newspaper articles and Duma investigations into shady dealings, and there'd even been comprehensive reports on Putin himself. He had been personally accused of fraud and connections with organized crime. It was impossible not to have noticed all this; one had to actively ignore it.

Putin may have been brilliant. He may indeed have been conscientious and effective, and he may have handled paperwork like a champion. However, there were thousands of other competent executives, many of whom were surely more remarkable. Nevertheless, it was Putin who was chosen. He was quickly promoted and given positions for which he objectively lacked the experience, knowledge, reputation, or merit.

So did Putin just get lucky? Far from it. He had made a lasting impression on Yumashev and Yeltsin in November 1997, when he helped his former boss Anatoly Sobchak, who was about to be imprisoned, leave the country secretly.

Saving Sobchak

On October 3, 1997, Sobchak was detained for questioning regarding several cases against him, including in connection with his double apartment on the Moika. They sat him in a car and took him to the police station, where he began suffering heart trouble. Sobchak was hospitalized and gave an interview from his hospital bed.

He then disappeared. In early November, he was found in Paris, having flown out of Russia on a private medical plane for surgery. It remains a mystery how Sobchak was able to leave the country despite the criminal charges. According to the official version, his wife made it all happen.

I realized that only under conditions of absolute secrecy could I accomplish this. I had to arrange for a medical plane, and I was amazed at how easily it was done, like ordering a taxi. I sent a representative to Helsinki, where they booked the plane, and friends there paid the money as if it were a loan. We're waiting for royalty payments to pay them back.

Lyudmila Narusova

Twenty years later, in 2018, Ksenia Sobchak released a film containing an exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin in which he admits that he was the one who organized Sobchak's secret escape. Out of pure nobility, of course, because he was sure Sobchak was innocent.

Apparently, as a trusted person, it was Putin whom Narusova sent to Finland. The one who paid for Sobchak's plane was Putin's close friend Gennady Timchenko, who happened to live in Finland. They prepared a cover operation. On November 5, Ksenia Sobchak was turning 16. Narusova invited a number of guests to make it look like there would be a big celebration in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, at the hospital, Sobchak convinced his doctor to release him, leaving with a thick stack of diagnoses.

Everything was ready for him to fly to Paris. It remained for Narusova to contact the French so that someone would meet Sobchak there.

She recalled how, while avoiding surveillance, she went to the Air France agency, where she could make a direct call to France. Narusova entered the neighboring Trussardi store and picked up a few items. Instead of heading to the fitting room, she went through the back door into the inner courtyard, shared with Air France. After making the call, she returned to the store, bought a dress, and left with the branded bag so that no one would suspect anything.

When the story of Sobchak's escape reached the Family, they were impressed by Putin's handling of the situation. Yumashev later said that Yeltsin took special note of this episode and that it was one of the reasons Putin was ultimately chosen.

A couple of years later, Sobchak returned to Russia with political ambitions. In early 2000, he became an authorized representative of presidential candidate Putin. And a few weeks later, during one of the election campaign trips, he died under very mysterious circumstances in a hotel room in Kaliningrad.

One aspect of this entire story is particularly surprising. How could so many people see anything heroic in Sobchak's evacuation? Putin wanted to save himself. He was a subordinate of Sobchak's and was involved in every case against him. Putin had signed documents, received apartments, and taken bribes from St. Petersburg gangsters. By saving Sobchak, Putin only wanted to avoid going to prison with him. For the Kremlin elite, though, he looked like a savior: if someone ever came after them, Putin would save them, too.

The successor

Prime ministers came and went in rapid succession, and the Family was up to its neck in problems: the debt default, the constant changes of government, and the State Duma's attempts to impeach Yeltsin.

The oligarchs Berezovsky and Gusinsky were on different sides of the barricade: Berezovsky defended the Family, while Gusinsky's NTV had stories about Yeltsin's and his cronies' corruption.

Billboards with a picture of Abramovich went up on Kutuzovsky Prospect in the summer of 1999 — a hint that he was secretly sponsoring the presidential Family in exchange for benefits.

Roma thinks about the Family, and the Family thinks about Roma. Congratulations! P.S. Roma has picked a great spot

The most important corruption scandal of this period was the Mabetex case. Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov initiated criminal proceedings for "improprieties by officials of the Russian Presidential Administration in the signing of contracts for the renovation of the Kremlin." Skuratov alleged that a contractor, the Swiss company Mabetex, had paid bribes to Russian officials — Borodin, the head of the Administrative Directorate, and Yeltsin's Family. An official investigation was also launched in Switzerland.

The prosecutor general, supported by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, took direct action against Yeltsin.

An extraordinary solution was found: in October, 1999, federal television showed footage of Skuratov cavorting with prostitutes. Initially, it was about a man who resembled the prosecutor general. Then, his identity in the footage was confirmed by FSB Director Vladimir Putin. Skuratov resigned.

I have learned that Putin was deeply involved in the Skuratov case. Putin investigated this case. I think President Yeltsin liked him a lot. And they must have paid a lot of attention to him at the time.

Boris Nemtsov

First Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation in 1997

In his memoirs, Yeltsin later admitted that he already knew in May 1999 that Putin would be his successor. During the summer, the Family was actively consolidating support. The journalist Ksenia Ponomareva, former head of ORT, said that in June of that year she was on the same plane as Yeltsin's daughter when Tatyana suddenly began to ask what she thought of Putin. Ponomareva thought it was a joke.

Igor Malashenko, the head of NTV at the time, said that Yumashev and Tatyana had great things to say about Putin — he was a good guy, Yeltsin liked him a lot. To Malashenko's reasonable response that Putin was from the KGB and couldn't be trusted, Tanya and Valya replied, "He didn't betray Sobchak, and he won't betray us either." 

Malashenko nevertheless agreed to meet him. Pyotr Aven organized a dinner at his dacha, inviting Malashenko and his wife as well as Putin and his two daughters, Katya and Masha.

Malashenko said that Putin spent the evening trying to be invisible. He didn't keep the conversation going or ask any questions, and when someone asked him something, he'd answer in one or two words. At one point, however, Putin had something to say. Malashenko's daughter had called from London after landing at Heathrow. The school car that was supposed to pick her up hadn't arrived. The daughter asked what to do, and her parents said to take an official black cab. Putin strongly disagreed. He said it was unsafe — how could you be sure it was a real taxi?

Putin's KGB mentality and his total lack of charisma made a terrible impression on Malashenko, and NTV, which Malashenko ran, didn't support his electoral bid. That cost the station its existence. Police raids began immediately after Putin's inauguration. In 2001, NTV was crushed and taken over by the state-owned Gazprom. Alfred Kokh, the organizer of loans for shares, was appointed the new director. Police raids began immediately after Putin's inauguration. In 2001, NTV was crushed and taken over by the state-owned Gazprom. Alfred Kokh, the organizer of loans for shares, was appointed the new director.

Berezovsky, though, supported the Family's choice. At the end of July, he flew to Biarritz, France, where Putin was vacationing with his family, and persuaded him to become Yeltsin's successor. On August 5, back in Moscow, Yeltsin himself offered Putin to become prime minister and successor. He initially declined, saying politics wasn't for him.

"Think about it. I believe in you," he said. The office was filled with tense silence. Every small sound seemed amplified, especially the ticking of the clock. Putin's eyes were particularly intriguing, conveying more than his words ever could.

Boris Yeltsin

an excerpt from the book "Presidentskii Marafon" [Midnight Diaries]

But then he changed his mind.

The big question for the Family now was how to elect a man with zero support among Russians. But this wasn't the first time they had solved that problem. From the moment he was appointed, Putin appeared on television constantly. A few days afterward, he traveled to Dagestan, which had just been nearly captured by militants.

Putin's visit to Dagestan in 1999

On August 31, there was a terrorist attack at Moscow's Okhotny Ryad. On September 4, 64 people were killed in Buinaksk. Four days later, a residential building on Guryanova Street in Moscow was blown up, killing 109 people. On September 13, a day of national mourning, a building on Kashirka was blown up. 124 people died.

Then a terrorist attack in Volgodonsk. Then the infamous incident with the bags of sugar in Ryazan: either an official drill or a terror attack that citizens accidentally prevented — a murky, insufficiently investigated story potentially linking FSB officers to the explosions.

The country was plunged into icy horror. And Putin promised from every TV screen to put an end to it.

But things didn't go so smoothly for Putin. His victory in the presidential election wasn't guaranteed. True, he was being praised on ORT, but NTV and the Moscow channels had their own favorites: the "Fatherland — All Russia" electoral bloc of former prime minister Primakov and Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov. It had been founded especially for the 1999 parliamentary elections and had every chance of winning.

Primakov was much more popular than Yeltsin, not to mention Putin. He, too, presented an image of strength and stability, a way out of the crisis. He was appointed prime minister after the government default in the summer of 1998 during Kirienko's tenure. The economy collapsed, with the dollar exchange rate skyrocketing from 6 rubles to 20, people losing all their savings in bankrupt banks, and thousands of enterprises went bankrupt. Primakov managed to stabilize the situation as much as possible within six months.

Primakov and Luzhkov

And Luzhkov, the mayor of the capital, was the country's main economic manager, overseeing vast budgets. Many governors joined their bloc, including the most influential ones: Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan; Rakhimov, the president of Bashkortostan; Aushev, the head of Ingushetia; and Yakovlev, who defeated Sobchak in the elections in St. Petersburg.

The Duma elections in December 1999 would decide everything. If "Fatherland — All Russia" won, Primakov's victory in the 2000 election would be guaranteed, and Yeltsin's successor would be left in the dust.


On the first day of 2024, on the very morning of January 1, Vladimir Putin visited the Vishnevsky Central Military Hospital in Krasnogorsk. He toured the rehabilitation center, the therapeutic gymnastics hall, and the water therapy room, and he met with soldiers wounded in Ukraine. Nine soldiers, eight of them without legs, one without an arm, were given medals.

When Putin personally does it, they tend to pick up the wounded in a slightly more presentable manner, without severed limbs.

The Vishnevsky Military Hospital, which now often appears on television in stories about the maimed soldiers Putin has sent to fight, is actually a symbolic place for his career. Twenty-five years ago, Boris Berezovsky had a bed in the generals' ward. Very ill with jaundice, with a high fever and on a drip, he had an epiphany: if Putin wants to win the presidential election, he needs a party, a counterweight to the Primakov/Luzhkov bloc. It would be called Unity and would have a bear on the logo.


Nowadays, one doesn't recall this event in polite society; it is a rather unpleasant memory for Putin. His party, after all, the party of power, was originally created by Berezovsky (Unity evolved into United Russia). He founded it, apparently paid for it with Abramovich's money, and led it to victory in the 1999 elections. Without this victory, Putin wouldn't have become president.

In 1999, in the parliamentary elections, they all simply disappeared. Two oligarchs remained on the stage: Gusinsky, who supported Primakov and Luzhkov, and myself, who supported Putin. All the others withdrew and said: "Well, we'll wait until the election is over and then we'll start licking whichever we need to."

Boris Berezovsky

Unity had no ideology and no program. It was pure "political technology," head-spinning political PR. Random people were chosen as the party's leaders — above all, the head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Sergei Shoigu, who was not much in the public eye but had a good reputation as a saver of lives. The Olympic wrestler Alexander Karelin was invited in, too — look at our muscles! Then there was the retired police official Alexander Gurov, famous for his fight against organized crime. They showed these three men against a backdrop of oh-so-Russian birches, wrote that they wanted to live decent lives, and added the now-familiar bear logo.

Unity's victory was secured the old-fashioned way: the journalist Sergei Dorenko produced 15 newscasts that destroyed Primakov and Luzhkov. Primakov's approval rating, which had been 30% in August, was now practically zero.

Unity, which had been expected to get at most 10% of the vote, received more than 23% in the Duma elections in December — almost as much as the Communists. Putin's party had triumphed. Luzhkov and Primakov received only 13%.

The political season was over, and the country gave itself over to New Year's festivities. But the holiday mood didn't last long.

December 31, 1999

Valya [Yumashev] and I had discussed this back in the fall, just discussed it. But it was all Yumashev's doing. Yumashev proposed doing it on the 31st, and Yumashev thought up everything else. And he persuaded Boris Nikolayevich to do it exactly like that.

Boris Berezovsky

On December 30, Valentin Yumashev delivered the text of the farewell New Year's speech to Yeltsin. Yeltsin initially intended to make some changes, but then decided the text was fine as is.

On the 31st, he wished the country a happy New Year for the last time and apologized — for dreams he couldn't make come true, for the fact that many things didn't work out, for frustrated expectations, for how hard the past few years had been. 

The speech was excellent, but there was one serious mistake. Yeltsin claimed that he had already accomplished the main task of his life. "Russia will never return to the past — now it will always move forward."

Russia had been catapulted into another of its Times of Troubles. And this had been the work of one man, who never should have held the office that he did. Yeltsin had failed in his life mission.

Why Putin?

The passage below is extremely important. This is a post written by Tatyana Yumasheva, who married Valentin in 2001. It is from 2009, when she had a LiveJournal and a desire to justify herself. The text is called "Why Putin." So, the main question here should be: why did they choose Putin out of all the options? She evaluates the candidates, explaining her logic: Primakov — not suitable, too harsh and promises imprisonments. Chernomyrdin? Can't win the elections. Luzhkov? A traitor. Yavlinsky, Gaidar — good, but unlikely to win the elections. Nemtsov? No chance. And then there's Putin.

The secretary of the Security Council and simultaneously the director of the FSB. In recent years he's worked in your administration. His work has been excellent. You knew him a bit less well when he was head of the Administration's Control Department, although you liked his clear and precise reports.

You liked his informative reports, his arguments, his calm, restrained approach to the urgent problems that arose in various regions of the country. You couldn't help but appreciate how honorably he behaved when his boss, the first mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, was attacked with trumped-up criminal cases, and he essentially saved him, risking his position and his status.

You are not at all bothered by his former work for the KGB. On the contrary: in Soviet times, spies always had a glowing image, and it was of course understandable why a young man would go into espionage. 

You decide that he is your top candidate. He will lead the country on a democratic path. He favors market reforms. He has a strong character, he will keep Russia moving forward. […] Yes, nobody knows him yet. But you're sure people will immediately sense his charm and inner strength.

You have no doubt he will win the election. Yes, he will. You just keep thinking and analyzing, Putin or not Putin.

And then you decide — Putin.

Tatiana Yumasheva

And that's it. If you read this text in the hope of finding an intelligible explanation, you can't find anything other than that Putin wrote nice reports and saved Sobchak from going to prison. If you read through Yeltsin's memoirs, which are actually Yumashev's memoirs, you want to find an answer to a basic question — what were they guided by? How could they choose Putin?


Why did they exercise the power that fell to them (by chance and undeservedly) in such a reckless way? Why did they create the oligarchs, why did they give them so much wealth, why did they introduce such brazen propaganda and sham elections? Why did they, these few "democrats" and reformers and oligarchs who despised the opinions of ordinary people, decide that they knew what was best for our country?

Under the cover of democratic values, the desire for a better future, and the demands of a historic mission, this self-proclaimed elite suffocated Russia's hard-won freedom bit by bit, day by day. They bloviated about their unique abilities, their foresight, and their great contributions while lining their pockets with allowances from the oligarchs. And we haven't once thanked the oligarchs…

Business is about money, not about the country. Society, as I understand it, is deeply infantile — not once in 25 years has it bothered to thank business for all it has done. Business built the country. It reorganized Soviet companies after they collapsed. It gave people their salaries back, it pumped money into the budget, it created sources so that our intellectuals get funds to promote culture, science, and education. Russian business did all of this. All this was done by those whom society calls oligarchs. They haven't even invented another word. The language reflects the thinking. They will not say a single kind word about business.

Anatoly Chubais

Zhanna, I absolutely do not regret it. Not at all. I believe that this result, Putin's result, and the fact that the majority continue to support him, speaks to how well Putin fits our beautiful Russia… I actually have immense sympathy for this person. There are things that, I'm sure, will be historically changed and corrected… You understood correctly that I am a loyal person to Putin and sympathize with him.

Valentin Yumashev

in an interview with Zhanna Nemtsova in 2019

As you can see, the perpetrators have no regrets and no remorse. They've told their own fictitious version of events in the spacious, bright halls of the Yeltsin Center: of warriors of liberty, of patriots and democrats who saved the country from disaster. That story is nicer than the truth, which is that they carried out a crime of historic proportions. They are the people who, through their actions and decisions, have undermined and distorted genuine democratic values. And they have betrayed the hopes of millions of people.

They had a chance to turn Russia into a rich, European country, but they traded that future for personal gain. They handed over power to a random crook in order to save their own hides.

It was these people who laid the foundation for Putin's gangster-KGB regime. And Putin is their creation, a product of the chaos they plunged Russia into in the '90s.

25 Years Later

Boris Yeltsin Jr., the grandson of the president, has been photographing the same view every winter for ten years. This is the island of St. Barthélemy, "the island of millionaires," a French territory in the Caribbean.

He comes here to celebrate every New Year's. Instead of the Kremlin's chimes and Putin's television speeches, he listens to Paul McCartney, Prince, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who give private concerts in the villa where he lives.

It is a Yeltsin family tradition to celebrate the New Year at Roman Abramovich's villa. Tatyana, Valentin Yumashev, and their daughter Masha Yumasheva, who was born in London in 2002, converge on the island of billionaires.

Private jets, yachts, beach vacations in the company of beautiful people: it's so good here that Tanya and Valya, not content just to visit Abramovich, bought their own villa in 2020. At 14.5 million euros, it was an expensive indulgence. 

It's been 30 years and the Family is still inseparable. As the billboards on Kutuzovsky said, "Roma thinks of the Family, the Family thinks of Roma." 2000 didn't really mark the end of an era; the Family didn't disappear after Yeltsin's resignation. Their brief five years of public power in the 1990s were just a prelude to an eternity with Putin. The mafia is truly immortal.

Vladimir Putin, Tatiana Yumasheva, and Naina Yeltsina, 2020

And the most important mobster, Vladimir Putin, does not forget those to whom he owes it all. He brings Tatyana flowers and presents on her birthday, and Valentin Yumashev has been Putin's official advisor since the first day of his presidency (he was last reappointed in 2018).

This post is unpaid, but that doesn't matter — the Yeltsins won't have to work a single day for many generations to come. Yumashev gets money from the oligarchs: he's an advisor to Abramovich and the banker Andrey Kostin, Alisher Usmanov paid him $6 million for certain "services," and Vladimir Yevtushenkov got him a place on the board of the telecom company MTS.

Tanya and Valya have even joined the family of an oligarch: Yumashev's daughter from his first marriage is married to Oleg Deripaska. He gave his father-in-law and mother-in-law a $20-million house in the elite Rublyovka neighborhood and shares in his company, En+ Group, so they could receive dividends. 

The man who made this all possible, from the election of Yeltsin to the election of Putin, is long gone. In 2013, Boris Berezovsky was found hanged with a scarf in his bathtub in his Berkshire home. In the last 10 years of his life, he had fought desperately against Putin, whom he said he had created.

As soon as Putin came to power, Berezovsky lost everything. Sibneft remained with Abramovich. ORT was also given to him so that he could gradually hand over the channel to the Kovalchuk family, who gave Putin full control of television. The newspaper Kommersant, which also belonged to Berezovsky, went to the oligarch Alisher Usmanov. Once the main newspaper in the country, it is now an organ of the Kremlin. And Berezovsky lost his famous London lawsuit against Abramovich, effectively bankrupting him.

In 2008, Berezovsky's closest business partner, Badri Patarkatsishvili, died unexpectedly at his villa in England, allegedly of a heart attack. In 2018, the body of Berezovsky's second partner, Nikolai Glushkov, was found in London. He was a former executive of LogoVAZ, AvtoVAZ, and Aeroflot, a member of the board of directors of ORT. Glushkov was strangled with a dog leash. A stepladder was found next to his body. The investigation revealed that someone had tried to stage a suicide (as in Berezovsky's case, it was death by hanging) but had made a mistake. Normally the ladder falls down in such cases, but here it was upright. According to the police, Glushkov had been strangled from behind by someone who had broken into his house.

One way or another, everyone who knew and was willing to talk about Berezovsky's role in Russian politics has disappeared. Let's be honest: this isn't a coincidence. What those who are still alive but are staying quiet think is an excellent question. Perhaps Tanya and Valya mull over this mysterious series of deaths on long family evenings.

In a bizarre turn of events, their daughter Masha has long been dating Berezovsky's son Gleb. They spend a lot of time in the house in Berkshire where Berezovsky's body was found in the bathroom on the second floor. They communicate with each other in English; both have lived abroad since birth. Gleb Berezovsky is a citizen of the United Kingdom, while Masha Yumasheva is a citizen of Austria. In fact, her parents — Tatiana and Valentin Yumashev — are also citizens of Austria. According to the media, they obtained Austrian passports about 15 years ago.

As for the rest of the Seven Bankers, their fates have been varied, depending on how they felt about Putin and what they were willing to do about it.

Alexander Smolensky moved to Austria, buying a huge villa in Vienna in the '90s. He has completely disappeared from the public eye. In fact, it's not even clear whether he's still alive. After 10 years in prison, Khodorkovsky moved to London and is now part of the Russian opposition. Until recently, Pyotr Aven and Mikhail Fridman also lived there. They bought huge estates, obtained foreign passports, and invested, not in Soviet metal concerns, but in developed Western economies.

But then came the war: the oligarchs were sanctioned and their bank accounts were frozen. After complaining in the Bloomberg that it had become impossible to pay his servants, Fridman returned to Russia. Aven, who introduced everyone to everyone, lives in Latvia, where he is a citizen. He also has a Luxembourgish passport, but he regrets getting involved with the West. Those investments, he now says, were a mistake.

Vladimir Gusinsky, the former owner of NTV, has had an interesting fate. After handing over the channel to the Kremlin, he was allowed to continue earning money and miraculously remained free in the early 2000s. He left Russia and now lives in Israel. There are rumors that he has reconciled with Putin. A Proekt investigation found that Gusinsky still receives hundreds of millions of dollars by selling TV shows about police to federal channels. Cop Wars, Investigative Secrets, Streets of Broken Lights — these are all Gusinsky masterpieces.

Putin's very public struggle with the oligarchs was selective: he only destroyed those who weren't ready to obey him. For instance, Potanin supported Putin from the beginning. He gave a speech at a United Russia forum and gave the party money. Today his company Nornickel sponsors the Federation of Acrobatic Rock 'n' Roll — a style of dance just happens to be the main hobby of Putin's daughter Katerina Tikhonova. Potanin was the biggest beneficiary of the withdrawal of Western companies from Russia: he bought insurance companies and Rosbank from the French Société Générale. He also acquired Tinkoff Bank. Its founder, Oleg Tinkov, said he was forced to sell his shares "for a few cents" — just 3% of the bank's actual value.

Roman Abramovich began sponsoring Putin during his first term. He gave Putin his first superyacht, Olympia. He donated money for the president's palace in Gelendzhik and even bought an apartment in Israel for Putin's old teacher. In addition to ORT, he bought shares in the TV advertising monopoly Video International and passed them on to the cellist Sergei Roldugin, a childhood friend of Putin's, whom he uses as one of his wallets.

Abramovich no longer likes being thought of as an oligarch. He presents himself as a Philanthropist, a Patron of the Arts, who sponsors ballet, theater, and galleries. His personal art collection, featuring names like Malevich, Picasso, and Monet, is estimated to be worth one billion dollars.

But of course, Abramovich is an oligarch. He still holds shares in Nornickel and the steel company EVRAZ, and he earns on the side by selling Russian timber to China. A few days before the war began, he transferred most of his assets to his children — sanction-proof.

Chubais should also be mentioned here. He submitted to Putin straight away in the 2000s and worked faithfully for him for almost 25 years. He was the head of RAO UES, special representative of the president, and head of Rusnano. For a time, Chubais took on the role of the country's chief innovator. He said groundbreaking discoveries were just around the corner and showed Putin a miraculously flexible tablet computer "unmatched anywhere in the world." Half a trillion roubles of state funds was invested in Rusnano. Now the company is on the brink of bankruptcy.

Without saying a word against the war or Putin, Chubais quietly moved to Israel, leaving behind something that's far from nano: a huge mansion in Peredelkino worth $40 million.

Can you guess what Chubais is doing at the moment? He's working on reforms for a post-Putin Russia! Anatoly Borisovich is apparently of the opinion that the reforms he already carried out weren't enough. He organizes seminars and debates and writes articles. He believes that real democracy, with fair elections and independent courts, isn't suitable for Russia. The Russian people are just too stupid and will vote for the wrong person. So who is the right person? Why, Chubais — he believes that he's not only worthy, but actually has a chance to lead Russia after Putin. No joke. 

There were some who had a real chance of becoming president instead of Putin. Some of them were only one step away. It's hard to say what our lives would have been like then. Primakov, Chernomyrdin, and Luzhkov didn't express any political ambitions after 2000, confining themselves to quiet, secondary roles and remaining loyal to Putin. Boris Nemtsov became an opposition figure, a protest leader, and was elected as a Member of Parliament. In 2015, he was shot dead on a bridge next to the Kremlin. The rest have also met their fates. 

Only Putin still remains. Putin — and us.

We did not choose him. None of us appointed him as the successor. We did not help him seize power, build palaces, and start wars.

We simply got him as a "gift" from the oligarchs and the Family that had taken power. Fairly or not, the greatest responsibility fell to our lot — to put an end to Putin's madness. To put an end to two decades of the oppression, lawlessness, and suffering that Putin has brought to our country. We must take back from him the things we cherish the most: our freedom, our people, our future. And we must never let something like this ever happen again.


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