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Feature Story October 6, 2006
Who’s Your Daddy?
Russia’s Emerging New Gentry Proves “We Do Get Fooled Again” By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 2 of 2

Meet Andrei Patrushev, the 25-year-old son of FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev. Last month, Kommersant announced that he was named as an "advisor" to the board of oil major Rosneft. Andrei, who graduated three years ago from the FSB school and worked in the 9th Directorate (sometimes called the "oil directorate"), has more than just his father going for him. His older brother, Dmitri, works at the state banking giant Vneshtorgbank, where he is in charge of extending credits to, yup, you guessed it: oil companies. Which is all a good thing because one of Dima's and Andrei's dad's best friends, FSB spook Igor Sechin, is not only one of Putin's key Kremlin deputies, but he's also the chairman of Rosneft. The Silovik's oil company.

Getting back to Vneshtorgbank, the de facto farm league for Russia's privileged children: Sergei Matvienko, son of St. Petersburg governor and Putin ally Valentina Matvienko, has served as the banking giant's senior vice president, cementing a relationship that goes back a few years. Before that, the ostentatious man-about-town Sergei worked at and owned a stake in bank "St. Petersburg," which was also part-owned by Vneshtorgbank. Novaya Gazeta raised a lot of questions in how this sketchy cross-ownership relationship may have benefited a certain son-of-the-gov, but hey, who's complainin'. In fact Sergei's considered one of the second city's biggest shishki, owning everything from a sizeable chunk of the local energy company, to advertising and construction firms. He also apparently bought an island in Estonia where he plans to build a mega-elitny community, and live in style.

Sergei Matvienko weds estrada star Zarya.

Sergei's private life is no less elitny. The GQ-mannequin-abee, who runs around with long silky hair and precious suits, makes Salnikov look like a gypsy cab driver by comparison. He married the twenty-year-old estrada singer/star Zarya (Zarya Migoyan), and is one of Petersburg's most public figures. And most controversial. This past summer, rumors flew that he had died somehow suddenly and tragically. When he emerged alive, counter-rumors flew that his enemies were waging a black PR campaign.

Of more interest are Russian press accounts that allege that in 1994, a then twenty-one-year-old Sergei Matvienko and a friend were arrested for burglarizing someone's apartment. Sergei was jailed for three days, let out, and eventually all charges were dropped when it was learned that in fact he wasn't even in Petersburg at the time of the alleged crime. Indeed he had an alibi in Malta, where his mother was then serving as ambassador. Sweet.

The most infamous appointment still has to go to the 2004 naming of then-26-year-old Pyotor Fradkov to become deputy general director of FESCO, the Far Eastern Shipping Company, Russia's third-largest and one of its most notorious. Before that tasty gig, Fradkov paid his dues the hard way: by working for, you guessed it, Vneshtorgbank. Dang, those guys really oughtta share their secret for how they continually roll out one 20-something corporate leader after another! Who knows, maybe some day Pyotor might even become a special advisor at Rosneft!

Speaking of twenty-somethings, last year, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's son, also named Sergei, was named vice president of Gazprombank at the tender age of 24. Gazprombank served as the banking/finance arm of the natural gas giant Gazprom, including its controversial acquisitions of NTV and other once-freer media. Late last year Germany's Dresdner bank bought a 33% stake in Gazprombank for a reported $800 million. The head of Dresdner's Moscow operations, Mattias Warnig, reportedly worked for the Stasi secret police in the 1980s, helping then-KGB-agent Putin recruit locals. The two are said to still be on tight terms today.

The good news about Sergei Sergeivich's success is that it means that the current system of naming your fresh-outta-college son to a senior banking/industrial position is going to continue into the post-Putin era, since his daddy is considered one of the frontrunners to take over Russia. The bad news is that Sergei's older brother, Alexander, isn't having as much luck. Ever since his little death porn accident last year, when his speeding Volkswagon Bora turned a 68-year-old pedestrian into roadkill, things just haven't been the same. Not that it was his fault for killing her: even though the crosswalk light was green, and even though Alexander was going double over the speed limit, no one seriously expected justice to prevail.

As one lawyer told Pravda, "Statistics says that pedestrians are guilty of causing similar car accidents in 60 percent of cases. Even if the Office of the Public Prosecutor decides to play an honest game, they will undoubtedly find a variety of legal and illegal ways to take the young man away from such serious responsibility. ...The defense minister's son will pay a certain amount of money to the relatives of the killed woman and they will withdraw the application."

Fine, but who will pay for that ugly dent in Sasha's Volkswagon?

Now you might think that all this nepotism is confined to the Silovik types. But you're wrong. Say hello to the son of pro-Western/technocrat/reformer Viktor Khristenko, the Minister for Industry and Energy. Technocrat-Jr.'s name is Vladimir Khristenko, and last year, at the ripe old age of 24, he was named General Director of the metals group Chelyabinsk Tube-Rolling Plant, or ChTPZ. This year, he's climbin' up even higher, like some George Jefferson only without the negroidness and the whole struggling-from-the-ghetto aspect, as Vladimir's now been named chairman of the supervisory board of Czech industrial valve manufacturer MSA, which ChTPZ recently acquired. It is rumored that Khristenko-pere has a big hand in Russia's lucrative metals business, but frankly, we'd be shocked if it were true. After all, daddy serves in the Russian government, and that would be forbidden!

Another way the Putin-era elite is solidifying its power is the old-fashioned way: marriage. Three years ago, Dmitri Ustinov, son of the then-powerful Prosecutor General, married Igor Sechin's "unidentified" daughter. It looked like a power-marriage useful for both parties until a few months ago, when Putin essentially sacked Ustinov. Which only serves as a reminder why nepotism-by-marriage is so 13th century, and why VP-of-huge-state-bank is so 2000s.

Now again, before you sneer too comfortably here, don't forget that Russia is far less exceptional than we'd want to believe. For example, you remember the Orange Revolution, the one that was supposed to change everything, sweep out all of the old, evil, Russian-inspired corruption, and usher in a new era of Western-style management and good government?

Paparrazi photos of Andriy Yuschenko and some slut he met in Turkey.

I present to you the Orange Revolution's leader and current Ukraine President Viktor Yuschenko. Actually, I present to you his 19-year-old son, Andriy, who last year got nailed in a scandal when he was fined $3 for driving his $160,000 BMW M6 without proper papers, and speeding like the privileged young dick that he is. According to an investigative journalist who tracked him down, Andriy's M6 was the only one of that model available in Kiev. Journalists also discovered that he owned a Vertu cellphone which cost upwards of $45,000. How did he get it? Cuz his daddy, the hero of democracy and Western values, actually trademarked all of the Orange Revolution symbols...and used the royalties to fund Andriy's 24-hour-party-people lifestyle. Ah, so that's what the Orange Revolution was all about! Duh! A few months after the BMW scandal, the publisher of the magazine Paparrazi saw his own car, a Bentley, set fire to on the same day that his magazine planned to run a feature cover story on l'il Andriy. Good news is, like Sergei Matvienko, Andriy had an alibi, as he was "vacationing in Turkey."

...Yeah, okay, so the new Russian elite's kids are getting absurdly top-notch jobs that in a fair world they'd never qualify for in a few decades. But is that really so unusual? What is it that bothers us so much about Russia's brand of nepotism? Who complained ten years ago when clueless 20-something Westerners were giving disastrous advice to Russian companies and economists during the 1990s, drawing huge salaries, living high on the hog, and screwing babes every other night in vodka-and-ecstsasy-fueled orgies?

Oh, right, we did. When we weren't blitzed out of minds, that is. We bitched then, and folks, we're bitching now. Cuz bitchin's our bizness.

Leaving aside for now tales about Kennedy-offspring rapists and Bush legacy war mongerers, America and Britain have become, according to studies, among the worst Western countries in terms of social mobility. Despite myths about ourselves, statistics show that the rich tend to stay rich or get richer, while the poor stay uneducated and poor, and the middle-class struggles to keep from slipping. What determines social mobility is, of course, education...or lack of it. And that's why America is so incredibly caste-bound. According to the Economist, three-quarters of the students at America's top 146 colleges come from the richest socio-economic fourth, compared with just 3% who come from the poorest fourth. This means that, at an elite university, you are 25 times as likely to run into a rich student as a poor one.

Even though, according to the same Economist article, less than a third of Americans believe that forces beyond their control determine their success (as opposed to Europeans, where a broad majority believes it), at the same time, studies show that, well, forces beyond our control--i.e., the family you're born into--determines your wealth or lack thereof. One American academic study followed some 3,000 father-son pairs from 1979 to 1998, and they found that nearly 70% of the sons were either at the same or worse level than their fathers. Unless they belonged to the most affluent category. Then they had mobility--upwards, that is.

Meanwhile, for every Sergei Matvienko there is a Paris Hilton or a Marvin Bush; for every Pyotor Fradkov there's an Elizabeth "oil/power" Cheney (and perhaps a Mary "Dental Dams" Cheney as well!); for every Sergei Ivanov-fils, there's a Michael Powell, named to head the FCC after his father became Sec State...after which li'l Mikey went on to turn the FCC into a wealth-generator for the Republican campaign donor club.

In 2000, Bush ran against Al Gore. Both had studied at Harvard, and surprise, both had rich powerful daddies who helped get them into Harvard. When it came to becoming president, George just happened to be a little bit meaner and hungrier than Al, so he won that election. Then in 2004, Bush ran against John Kerry, who went to Yale--as did Bush. Kerry also came from money--his mother was a Forbes, you see. Next election? Hilary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush.

You starting to see a pattern yet, folks?

I could go on and on here, delving into even worse cases of foul nepotism in the West: Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers; Jason Bonham, who is to his father what Mr. Limpet is to Moby Dick; to the sub-fungal Sophia Coppola, a talentless bimbo so dependent on her daddy's name that she can only be described as the George W. Bush of the indy film world.

In fact, if anything we in the West, and particularly in America, have a lot less to be sanctimonious about when it comes to fighting nepotism, corruption and cronyism. Russians got themselves in their current mess by recognizing, hating, and turning against previous corrupt elites, only to see conditions worsen every time. Yet they still haven't stopped fighting it and hating it. And don't forget that Russia was the site of the most inspiring and complete socio-economic revolution in human history, the most thorough takedown of a privileged elite ever.

Americans, along with Brits to a lesser extent, don't even believe that there is such a thing as an entrenched elite in their country. The morons believe that everyone got to where they were by sheer hard work, gumption, elbow grease. This is what happens when you fuck a nation in the mind with Calvinism. When you're that deluded and you can't or refuse to see the corruption in your own culture, yet at the same time, you feel something's wrong, you've really got two choices: either wake up and fight it at home, which can be socially dangerous if you don't want your Western friends to call you "weird" and tell you to "get over it." Or the other choice is just to forget taking a risk, externalize your anger, and shake your head at Russia's particularly naked, savage nepotism. Because for some reason, the Russians make corruption look so damn fun. And that, as much as anything, is what makes it so goddamn hard to swallow.

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