When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the country embarked on a painful transition from communism to capitalism. By the mid-nineties, oligarchs had taken over. Foremost among them was Boris Berezovsky, a mathematician/car salesman who rose to dizzying heights with interests in oil, metals, and television. But it was a brutal world in which his life was constantly in danger. Body guards surrounded him wherever he went. He rode in bullet-proof limousines, and still he was not safe.
In order to do business in Russia, oligarchs like Berezovsky needed to control the government. They did it by cozying up to President Boris Yeltsin. With the government effectively in their pockets, they created monopolies, cornered markets, and controlled the media. When Yeltsin’s health deteriorated, they devised a plan to replace him with Vladimir Putin.
They knew not what they were doing. The man they put in power ultimately turned against them. And he brought his own style of KGB savagery and corruption to the country.
The world was shocked when former KGB officer, Alexander Litvinenko, died of polonium poisoning in London in 2006. But that was only the beginning. The country has today descended into kleptocracy. Journalists are routinely silenced. Political opponents are gunned down in the streets of Moscow.
Mezrich’s book can be read as a cautionary tale; if the oligarchs are allowed to control the government, as they did in Russia, who knows what havoc they may wreak.