“Our everything: a huge selection of goods from Russia! Even more goods from Russia – look! [1.] Zarina hoodie, 1,689 rubles [approx. 21 euros]. [2.] Vasilisa Botanika bedding set, 1,571 rubles. [3.] Tech Team Comfort urban scooter, 3,990 rubles.” Source: Ozon email advertising circular, 2 May 2022. Ozon is a major Russian online retailer and is sometimes referred to as “the Amazon of Russia.” When I still lived in Russia, I regularly ordered books from them. In the first weeks of the war, they were pushing the imported western goods they still had in stock. ||| TRR
Skimping on bags and paper, problems with electric cars, and the rise in price of coffee beans
Skimping on little things. Retailers and catering are reducing the use of certain types of packaging, containers, and consumables. Some things you have to give up against your will.
Russians charge slowly but drive fast. Sanctions have blocked the way to Russia for foreign electric cars, but import substitution is already being readied.
Pecking like a bird. Petersburg coffee roasters have faced logistical problems. Green coffee beans have risen in price by 15-50%, which has already affected retail prices.
They keep well. In the current situation, warehouses remain the most stable segment of the commercial real estate market, experts argue.
Have a good day!
Source: Delovoi Peterburg, daily email newsletter to subscribers, 7 April 2022. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin for Delovoi Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader
Queen’s hits as played by a symphony orchestra
Show must go on? [sic in English] We agree! Great news for everyone who has dreamed of going to a concert by the legendary Queen. On April 21, the group’s international hits will be performed at Tinkoff Arena by the IP Orchestra under the direction of the brilliant Igor Ponomarenko.
Queen is one of the greatest bands in history: their cultural legacy has changed the world of music forever.
The supremely rich acoustic palette of a symphony orchestra, new arrangements of classic Queen compositions, the wild drive of the musicians on stage, and the charming voice of the soloists — all this is part of the patented “Queen Show. Show Must go on” [sic in English].
The IP Orchestra has long established itself as a brand not only in Russia, but also in the countries of the near and far abroad. The band has toured on five continents, performed at the world’s best venues, and has thousands of admiring viewers and loyal listeners.
To attend this event, you will need a QR code showing that you have been fully vaccinated or have had the disease, or a certificate showing that you have had a full course of a vaccine, or a document confirming that you have been granted a medical exemption from vaccination along with a negative PCR test for participants and guests over eighteen years of age.
Source: Bileter.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader
Unfortunately, for reasons beyond our control, all parts of J. K. Rowling’s famous saga about the boy wizard will be unavailable on LitRes in three days. Only now can you buy them in time with a 25% discount! It is important that every book remains in your personal library forever.
To activate the discount, follow this link or enter ACCIO on the promo code page. The offer is valid until April 8.
Source: LitRes email newsletter for customers, 6 April 2022. Image, above, captured on this page on their website. Translated by the Russian Reader
Toys for everyone
On the eve of Defender of the Fatherland Day [February 23], the demand for electronics (game consoles, laptops, tablets) has grown — they are among the most coveted gifts. Ozon said that in mid-February, unit sales of consoles and accessories had increased 2.2 times year-on-year. “Retro consoles have been an unexpected trend in the video game consoles category — they have been the best-selling products. Dendy Junior and Sega Genesis will be nostalgic February 23rd gifts for Petersburg residents,” the retailer’s press service added.
Wildberries has also seen a run on electronics. But electric razors (demand for them increased by 153% in the first half of February) and hair and beard clippers (up by 48%) have been their most popular items.
M.Video-Eldorado told us that headphones and portable acoustics have been trending. In addition, the new digital reality dictates its own rules: gifts that cannot be touched with your hands are becoming more and more desirable. High demand this year has been shown by digital content such as subscriptions to services (videos, books, etc.). Sales of digital codes for games had more than doubled by February 2021 [sic].
Sales on Avito of laptops and smartphones have also increased by 15% and 9%, respectively. You can buy devices for an average of 22,380 rubles and 17,920 rubles [approx. 249 and 199 euros]. Some female Petersburgers decided to make their task as easy as possible and present men not with a specific gift, but with a gift certificate. The Avito press service said that users spend an average of 4,700 rubles [approx. 52 euros] on them.
Retailers can also make money in February on sales of children’s goods. Radio-controlled toys have become more than twice as popular on Ozon. Wildberries noted that parents purchase toy weapons, cars, airplanes and helicopters, as well as various prefabricated models for their little defenders.
Whether he’s going to the army or on a fishing trip
Goods for hunting and fishing — that’s what female customers have paid attention to this holiday. However, even this involves electronic gadgets. “The list of [our] popular items includes an echo sounder and a case for it, a monocular telescope, powerful binoculars, and a set of walkie-talkies,” Ozon’s press service says.
“In the household and garden goods category, sauna accessories (for example, a hat embroidered with the phrase ‘February 23’) and goods for cooking kebabs and barbecue (a set of skewers with lacquered beech handles in a tight protective cover has been among the top sellers) have been purchased the most,” [reports Ozon]. It’s funny that in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region this year one of the most popular February 23rd gifts will be a set for making homemade liqueurs.
Wildberries’ female shoppers have been no less creative in choosing gifts. They decided that army dry rations are an inexpensive and original option, orders of which have increased by 344% year-on-year. These are gift sets designed to look like a real soldier’s rations. Jumbo-sized dry rations featuring canned food and snacks cost about 1,5000 to 2,000 rubles [approx. 17 to 22 euros].
And yet the popularity of socks and men’s skin care products remains unshakable. In the first half of February, Wildberries saws the number of orders for socks in St. Petersburg increase by 113%, and shaving kits by 150%, while orders for cosmetic care kits rose by 750%, deodorants, by 46%, and colognes, by 157%. The demand for men’s lotions has increased by 100%, while the popularity of shower gels has soared almost ninefold compared to January. Ties (up 95%), belts (up 153%), and wallets (up 144%) are also among popular traditional gifts.
Corporate customers of online stores this year bought sweets for the holidays. According to SberMarket’s b2b department, companies have most often ordered gift sets of Merci candy, coffee and tea in gift packages, and Old Spice, Palmolive, and Gillette skin care sets for employees for Defender of the Fatherland Day this year.
Protests by Berlin-based artists over the curator of “Diversity United,” a traveling exhibition with ties to right-wing politicians, have led some prominent participants in the show to drop out.
The controversy over the show is related to protests surrounding the Kunsthalle Berlin, a new, temporary museum at the abandoned Tempelhof airport. Calling the Kunsthalle Berlin a “cynical, neoliberal machine,” Berlin-based artists took issue with the space’s founder, the curator Walter Smerling, who organized “Diversity United” in its initial showing at the airport. According to Candice Breitz, an artist who has been among those leading a movement known as Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin, at least 9 of the 90 participants have pulled out the show, which is now at the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
Artists associated with Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin claimed that the organizers of “Diversity United” failed to appropriately compensate many of the participating artists, and that the show had traveled to Russia with the explicit approval of President Vladimir Putin. The show, which aspires to showcase how the “artistic face of Europe is complex, diverse and permanently in flux,” was first staged in 2021 at the Tempelhof airport and is slated to travel to Paris after appearing in Moscow.
According to Breitz, Yael Bartana, Mona Hatoum, Aleksandra Domanović, Katja Novitskova, Ahmet Öğüt, Agnieszka Polska, Martina Vacheva, Dan Perjovschi, and Constant Dullaart are among those who have withdrawn—and there are others who have pulled out or intend to do so, but don’t want to go public, according to Breitz. Additional, artist caner teker is declining a prize for emerging artists being given out by a Bonn-based foundation run by Smerling.
“The artists who’ve thus far withdrawn from ‘Diversity United’ have tended to first formally communicate their intentions to the curatorial team behind the exhibition before reaching out to vocal members of the boycott group (#BoycottKunsthalleBerlin), to give us permission to share their decisions with a broader public,” Breitz said in an interview. “We’ve taken great care to ensure that we have their blessing before going public with their names.”
The Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin movement aims to highlight Smerling’s connections to right-wing politicians. “Diversity United” received support from former German officials like Armin Laschet and Gerhard Schröder. A key funder of the show, entrepreneur Lars Windhorst, has been implicated in both the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers. The political connections of the show and artists’ dashed hopes of making use of the Tempelhof airport for themselves spurred some to act.
In an email to ARTnews, Smerling wrote, “I have no understanding for the boycott. Boycotting is not a solution, for anyone. The solution is to find common ways. There must be opportunities for private, public and cooperative exhibitions. Incidentally, I find it highly disrespectful and undignified when artists want to prevent other artists from being seen.”
Smerling also defended the show’s connections with Putin, even as tensions increase in Russia due to the situation in the Ukraine. “The claim of ‘Diversity United’ is to build bridges with art, open the possibility for dialogue, where everything else fails,” Smerling wrote. “Maybe that is why the foreign ministry and the president of the federal republic of Germany support this exhibition, fully aware of its patrons.”
Smerling received 1 million euros in funds from the German Foreign Federal Office to organize the “Diversity United” show, which is more than the National Gallery in Berlin has within its annual acquisition fund. While the show was organized around the theme of diversity, all of the 10 curators of the show and all of the financial backers were white. “There was significant frustration around ‘Diversity United’ when it was installed in Berlin, but the constellation of power behind the exhibition made it very intimidating for people to speak out,” Breitz said.
Smerling had been given access to two hangars in the Tempelhof Airport rent-free. And while there had initially been claims that Smerling had to find private funding to cover the Kunsthalle Berlin’s operating costs, which can run to as much as 100,000 euros a month due to the lack of infrastructure and the old age of the building, it turned out that the government had agreed to cover half the costs, according to the German publication Monopol. (These funds had come out of a pool of money for buildings and real estate, not one for public museums.) Christoph Gröner, a real estate developer who Breitz alleges is responsible for hundreds of evictions over the years, footed the other half of the bill for the running costs of Kunsthalle Berlin.
Asked about the show’s funding, Smerling argued that these facts don’t represent the full picture, saying, “Each art exhibition costs us far more than just the operating costs for the halls and, depending on the number of visitors, also more than the operating subsidy we receive. This is all our risk.”
Smerling has said he welcomes a “dialogue” with the artists, but Breitz believes this overture came too late. “Until a couple of weeks before it opened, nobody had even heard that we would be getting a ‘Kunsthalle Berlin,’ including our top museum directors and curators at public institutions. That is absolutely unacceptable. The purpose of a boycott is to seek to alter a situation that is unacceptable.”
Source: Shanti Escalante-De Mattei, “Amid Kunsthalle Berlin Protests, Artists Withdraw from Controversial ‘Diversity United’ Exhibition,” ARTnews, February 9, 2022
I once gave an interview about the situation in Zhanaozen to Gulzhan Yergaliyeva for the website Guljan.org. After the interview was published, the local police inspector came to see me. He said that the deputy head of the regional police department had arrived from Aktau and really wanted to talk to me. I said I would meet him. I went to the meeting, and this police chief demanded that I send all the strikers home and stop the strike. “You’re an activist!” he told me. I told him that it was impossible: no one would go along with me, and I personally wouldn’t agree to stop the strike. That was the end of it. As soon as I arrived home from this meeting, as soon as I got out of the car and went into the landing of my building, two guys ran after me and began to beat me. They knocked me to the floor and started kicking me. When I mixed it up with them, one of them took out a traumatic pistol and shot me twice in the head. That’s when I lost consciousness. It turns out that on the exact same day exactly the same attack was carried out on Orken and Asan, journalists from Radio Azattyk. They were also shot with traumatic pistols and beaten with bats.
The murder of Zhaksylyk Turbayev, who was a trade union leader at Munai Field Service, ratcheted things up. He said that the workers at his company would support the strike and the people on the square. After he made this statement, he was killed in a trailer at his workplace.
How was he killed?
He was beaten to death with rebar rods in a trailer. The entire trailer was covered in blood.
Has this crime been solved?
No, it hasn’t been solved.
After Zhaksylyk Turbayev’s murder, literally the next month, Zhansaule Karabalayeva was murdered. She was 18 years old. The oil workers saw it as a murder meant to intimidate them, because Zhansaule’s father was among the trade unionists who constantly were here on the Alan.
How was Zhansaule killed, and where was she found?
She was raped and murdered. She was taken to the steppe. She was killed not far from a border post, some kind of military installation outside of town. She was killed and her body was dumped about 300 to 400 meters from this place.
Another incident that inflamed things happened to a woman named Aizhan, who was a staff member of the strike committee. The police broke into her house during her lunch break and forced everyone to lie face down on the floor. Everyone who was at home was thrown on the floor. Aizhan’s 10-year-old son stood up in front of the police and shielded his mother. This boy was punched in the head by a police captain. The child suffered a moderate head injury, a concussion.
Source: 12/16/11: The Truth About What Happened in Zhanaozen 10 Years Ago. Translated by the Russian Reader
A lot of two items related to privatization in Russia, 1992-1993
1. Zvezda: The People’s Newspaper of the Kama Region (Perm), no. 182 (November 11, 1992). 4 pages, illustrated. Complete copy in good condition. “This concerns all of us: privatization in Russia,” an appeal by Anatoly Chubais, appears on page 3.
2. Privatization in your pocket. A brief guide for participants of check auctions, or what to do with a privatization check and how to do it (Novosibirsk, 1993). Brochure, 32 pages, illustrated, 10 × 13.2 cm. Publisher’s cover, good condition.
Privatization in Russia [was] the process of transferring state property of the Russian Federation (formerly the RSFSR) to private ownership. It was implemented in Russia in the early 1990s (after the collapse of the USSR). Privatization is usually associated with the names of E.T. Gaidar and A.B. Chubais, who were involved in privatizing industrial enterprises in the 1990s. The outcome of privatization has often been harshly criticized, in particular, due to the emergence of severe economic stratification among the Russian populace.
A rare artifact of the era.
[Source: Litfond auction house. Translated by the Russian Reader]
Leader of World Proletariat with Female Gate Attendant Reflected in Security Mirror, SUV, and New Year’s Tree. December 18, 2016, 11 Lomanaya Street, St. Petersburg
Monument to V.I. Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (pseudonym – Lenin) (1870-1924) was a Russian and Soviet world-class politician and statesman, revolutionary, founder of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (Bolsheviks), and one of the organizers and leaders of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. The monument was erected on the 87th anniversary of Lenin’s birth on the premises of the former Proletarian Victory shoe factory. Unveiled on April 22 , 1957. Cast from a model by the sculptor P.I. Bondarenko.
Source: 2gis.ru. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
• • • • •
Post-Soviet “ethnic diversity” gone bad. Four “folk singers” from god knows what republic or “little people of the north” lip-synching a folk song at the New Year’s bazaar on Pioneer Square in Petrograd. ||| TRR, December 18, 2015
Provincial towns, where you’ll never get a straight answer.
What’s it to you? It was yesterday however you cut it.
Outside the elms murmur, nodding to a landscape
Only the train ever sees. Somewhere a bee buzzes.
The knight made a career of crossroads, but these days
Is himself a stoplight. Plus there’s a river in the distance.
And between the mirror into which you gaze
And those who can’t recall you there’s also little difference.
Closed fast in the heat, the shutters are entwined in gossip,
Or merely ivy, to avoid making a blunder.
Bounding through the front door, a sunburnt stripling
Clad in only his swim trunks has come to collect your future.
So twilight’s a long time in descending. Evening’s usually cast
In the shape of a train station square, with a statue, etc.,
Where the glance in which you read “You bastard!”
Is in direct proportion to the crowd that’s not present.
Source: Culture.ru. Image courtesy of Ozon. Translated by the Russian Reader
43-year-old Maxim Levchenko is a managing partner at Fort Group, the developer of a large number of shopping centers in Petersburg and Moscow. His company is one of the largest proprietors of commercial real estate in the country. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, he opened A Room and a Half — a Joseph Brodsky museum located in the communal apartment where the poet lived with his parents. A Brodsky museum has long been the talk of the town in Petersburg. Friends and fans of Brodsky have been trying to open [a museum in the apartment] since the late 90s. A neighbor in the communal apartment [where the Brodskys lived], Nina Vasilyevna prevented it from happening, responding to all requests [to sell her room in the flat to make room for the museum] laconically: “Over my dead body.” That is, until a shopping center proprietor seemingly remote from literature, businessman Maxim Levchenko, showed up at the flat. Brodsky’s fans naturally wondered who he was. Anna Mongayt asked Levchenko to give her a tour of the museum for the program “Patrons” and recount how he managed to persuade Nina Vasilyevna [to make a deal], how architect Alexander Brodsky was involved in designing the museum, and why the businessman wanted to invest in such an unprofitable project.
Watch the thirty-nine-minute program (in Russian, with no subtitles) on TV Rain. Image courtesy of TV Rain. Program synopsis translated by the Russian Reader
Vadim F. Lurie, Talking Business, Moscow, 2021. Reproduced here with the photographer’s kind permission. ||| TRR
Nastya Ivleeva’s popularity almost guarantees trial purchases by loyal followers and innovative consumers. Photo: instagram.com/_agentgirl_/
Nastya Ivleeva to release chips under brand name Easy Peasy
As well as an energy drink and a chocolate bar
April 19, 2021
“Everyone knows me as a chip-eater [chipsoyed] – chips are my favorite snack. Producing my own chips is a natural decision for me, ” Nastya Ivleeva told Vedomosti. The launch and development of her brands will be handled by Bee’s Knees LLC, which Ivleeva and her partners registered in February 2021, Vitalius Paulus, one of the project’s co-founders, told Vedomosti. According to SPARK-Interfax, 45% of the LLC belongs to Anastasia Uzenyuk (this is Ivleeva’s married name; her husband is the [rapper] Alexei Uzenyuk aka Allj). Paulus and another co-founder of the project, Alexei Klochkov, each own 27.5% of the company.
Ivleeva’s partners are experienced marketers who have worked in senior positions at Procter & Gamble. Paulus was also the general director of alcohol distributor Bacardi Rus and vice president of marketing at Danone Russia, while Klochkov has held top management positions in the Pyaterochka and Dixie grocery chains. They were prompted to join the project by the fact that “Ivleeva is a source of traffic for grocery chains,” says Paulus. “Her image was successfully used to promote the special lines of Lay’s and Pepsi products manufactured for the Magnit grocery chain 2020, and this year the campaign was re-launched,” he said. Paulus believes that young people from Ivleeva’s more than twenty-million-strong audience are interesting to FMCG producers nowadays.
In the coming days, LLC Bee’s Knees will submit for registration with Rospatent [the Russian federal patents office) the trademarks Easy Peasy for chips and Chicha Boom for an energy drink. (Vedomosti has seen a copy of the application.) In addition, a chocolate bar brand will be registered (its name has not yet been disclosed), said Paulus. Thirty to sixty million rubles will be spent on launching the entire line of brands, and ten to twenty million rubles will be invested in each product, Klochkov said. According to him, the partners will invest money in proportion to the percentage of shares they own in LLC Bee’s Knees. They expect that in the near future their brands will occupy shares in their market segments “measuring in the billions of rubles.” For the launch of Ivleeva’s products, three “product categories with a turnover of several tens of billions of rubles, where several major players have 75% of the market” have been chosen, Paulus notes. “They are dominated by western brands, whose marketing and value agenda are shaped at global headquarters and are increasingly at odds with what Russian consumers think and feel,” he says.
Source of popularity
Ivleeva is one of the most popular Russian internet bloggers. She has two Instagram accounts (with over eighteen million and seven million followers, respectively), a TikTok account (with over six million followers), and a YouTube channel (with over four million subscribers). In August 2020, Forbes ranked Ivleeva sixth in its ranking of the top fifteen bloggers by earnings on Instagram, estimating her income at $610,000 a year. (Placing a promo post featuring a photo on Ivleeva’s Instagram page costs 1.8 million rubles [approx. $24,000], a video, from three million rubles, and a “story,” 850,000 rubles.) According to Brand Analytics, in March 2021 Ivleeva took first place in popularity in the Russian segment of Instagram, ahead of blogger and TV presenter Olga Buzova (second place) and mixed martial arts fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov (third place).
Ivleeva was born in the village of Razmetelevo near St. Petersburg. In an interview with Yuri Dud, she said that in the 2000s she worked as a manicurist in the town of Koltushi, and then moved to St. Petersburg, where she worked as a nightclub hostess in a nightclub. She has lived in Moscow since 2015. In 2016, she was invited to host the show “Everything Is Possible” on the TV channel Yu, followed by the program “Heads and Tails” on the TV channel Pyatnitsa. In 2018-2019, Ivleeva played the main role in the TV series “Tourist Police,” which was broadcast on Pyatnitsa. On YouTube, Ivleeva launched two of her own shows – “Agent Show” and “Z.B.S.”
Yuri Dud interviewed Nastya Ivleeva in 2018
According to a NielsenIQ retail audit, sales for 2020 in the product category “chips” amounted to about thirty-six billion rubles, “energy drinks,” to thirty-six billion rubles, and “chocolate bars,” to about 100 billion rubles. In the chips category, the top four manufacturers were Frito Lay, Kellogg’s, Lorenz Snack World, and Russkart, which occupy about 85% of the market in monetary terms, according to Gfk (a survey of 20,000 households in Russia, based on purchases tracked with scanners and mobile apps).
“Our business model is based on a natural extension of Ivleeva’s image, beloved by a multi-million audience, into the brands she sells,” Klochkov says. “It’s a fun and cheeky image, not snobbish or fake.” The products will be focused on the middle price segment. According to Klochkov, the key will be vivid, eye-catching packaging, “constituting a kind of pop art”. In promoting the brands, the partners intend to “rely on the powerful media resources” of Ivleeva, who will also serve as “a supporting figure in creating and producing the creative approach” [sic]. Ivleeva herself says that she plans to involve her company Ivleeva Production in promoting the new line.
Olga Andrushevich, marketing manager in the salty snacks category at Kellogg Rus (manufacturer of Pringles chips), admits that, strategically, Ivleeva and her partners have made the correct choice: the Bee’s Knees team has picked large segments that have been growing faster, on average, than the grocery sector for high-demand goods. At the same time, Ivleeva’s target audiences and the selected categories obviously overlap. According to Igor Pletnev, ex-CEO of the Dixie retail chain, the project optimally combines “Ivleeva’s media power” and “the professional baggage of Klochkov and Paulus, who are capable of attractively packaging a new image for consumers and the retail trade.” Unsuccessful launches by stars of their own brands are most often due to a lack of professional support.
However, Alexei Andreev, managing partner of the Depot branding agency, believes that the connection of brands with Ivleeva will be an argument in favor of buying a product only for her loyal fans, because putting a real person behind a brand usually hinders promoting it to wide audience. In his opinion, personifying a brand immediately makes a product a niche product. The blogger’s popularity almost guarantees trial purchases by loyal subscribers and innovative consumers, agrees Albina Iskakova, commercial director of the Belaya Dolina food holding. But, she said, she has “not seen successful examples,” in the medium and long term, of stars who launched their products and were able to compete on an equal footing with major industry players.
Andreev recalls that many manufacturers today consider the chips and energy drinks segments “toxic”: the authorities have repeatedly discussed restrictions on advertising products whose health benefits are dubious. According to Andrushevich, many major brands are beginning to retool recipes and packaging, making them healthier for consumers and the environment, as consumers have become more attentive to the quality of products, their ingredients, and the environmental friendliness of packaging. “It will be very interesting to look at the ingredient list in the new products from Ivleeva,” she says.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Igor Mints, Rustam Yulbarisov, and Sasha Mints. Courtesy of Rustam Yulbarisov
How I Was Friends with Billionaires
November 1, 2020
This is a saga of two families, of poverty and wealth, and of the twin brothers who helped me see the biggest difference between people.
I learned that humanity was divided into classes at School No. 963. My mother managed to get me into the first A class, which was considered a university prep class, in contrast to the proletarian B and C classes. We studied English, drawing, ballroom dancing, and even the Vietnamese martial art Việt Võ Đạo, which was taught by an Azerbaijani. The school fees were also higher.
I learned directly about the divisions between people from my friendship with my classmates Sasha and Igor. I don’t know what caused us to become friends, but now I am sure that it was inevitable, because we had too much in common. Our families had moved to Moscow from the regions. We lived in neighboring houses on the same floors. We were non-Russian, and they were also a little non-Russian. They were twin brothers, and I had a brother. They clobbered each other, and we clobbered each other. Our fathers worked as officials in the new Russian government. They even gave their sons identical jackets: green ones for us and purple ones for them, and our mothers gave us identical books—Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs.
The book so fascinated us that we formed a club called UGS (UFO and Ghost Society) and got a notebook in which we recorded the mystical happenings in our courtyard. We would visit each other, watch movies on videotape, and play LEGO. I liked going to their house more because we had a one-room apartment and they had a five-room apartment. I had to lie that we had another room, a secret one. Most importantly, they had a computer, at which I sat with the twins in turn on the same chair, battling it out on Heroes of Might and Magic II, with its codes for black dragons. Our family would get a computer later.
Our friendship ended in the eighth grade. Igor and Sasha went to study at University Prep School No. 1501 (affiliated with the STANKIN, the Moscow State Technology University), taking with them all the classmates with whom I was friends. I stayed at School No. 963 because I acted in the theater club and didn’t want to get my life entangled in machine tool engineering, mathematics and economics.
I will always remember the conversation we had in the hallway at school. We were walking past the changing rooms on the ground floor and discussing our position in the world.
“We’re middle class,” I said.
“No, we’re upper class,” they said.
Their names were Igor and Sasha (Alexander) Mints.
We’re Not the Mintses
I can still tell which Mints is which. Igor has a longer face. He’s on the left. Sasha has a rounder face and a lower voice. He’s on the right. Igor was considered a bully, and Sasha was more easy-going. I was more friends with Igor, and my brother was closer to Sasha. Their mother, Marina, is in the middle. Photo: Irina Buzhor/Kommersant
In early 2020, the Basmanny District Court in Moscow arrested in absentia Boris Mints, owner of O1 Group, and his sons Alexander (Sasha) and Dmitry, and put them on the international wanted list. The Mintses have been charged with a serious crime—aggravated embezzlement, punishable under Article 160.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The punishment for the crime is ten years in prison.
The Russian Investigative Committee accused the Mintses of embezzling 34 billion rubles from Otkritie Bank when it bought bonds from O1 Group. According to investigators, in 2017, Otkritie’s chair, Yevgeny Dankevich, agreed with the management of O1 Group to buy its bonds, although he knew that the real value of the securities was less than half of their face value. O1 Group repaid its loans from Oktritie ahead of schedule with the money made from the sale of the bonds. Shortly after the deal was concluded, Otkritie and Trust Bank were taken over by the Russian Central Bank.
The parties sued each other in court in the UK. The Mintses moved to London before the investigation was launched, and Dankevich went into hiding in Israel. The banks petitioned the court to freeze $572 million of the Mintses’ assets, including the Tower of Lethendy in Scotland, four hotels, two estates, and a residential building in Haifa. In 2017, Forbes estimated that Boris Mints was worth $1.3 billion, but a year later he had dropped out of the top ranks. He said that the two banks, in collusion with the Central Bank, had launched a “campaign” against him due to “strong personal animosity.” In 2018, Mints had to sell Budushchee pension fund, which was one of the three largest non-state pension funds in Russia, to pay his debts. Budushchee (“Future”) had made losses for its clients two years in a row, losing “every eighth ruble belonging to pensioners.” “If we all crash, then the country will crash,” Mints said in an interview.
I have nothing to brag about. My biggest crime is slightly injuring a couple of neo-Nazis. I also shoplifted clothes from stores. When I was young, I didn’t have enough clothes. I wanted to look attractive in front of the girls, and not wear jackets handed down to me by older relatives.
“We’re not the Mintses,” my mother would tell us when we couldn’t afford something. That was the most frequent phrase she muttered when talking about our family’s financial circumstance. The second most popular phrase was “we don’t have any money.” My brother remembers his childhood as “cold and gloomy.” I was forever saddled with an anxiety about what tomorrow would bring.
The last time I met Mintses in our neighborhood was before I went to university. A friend and I were drinking beer outside when a foreign-made car passed by. I recognized my school friend at the wheel. He stopped and opened the window. I smiled and put the beer on the roof of the car to free my hand for a handshake.
“Take it off, you’ll scratch the paint,” he said.
The irony is that my father doesn’t just know Boris Mints. Their career paths had been similar in many ways: both started as officials in regional governments, and then transferred to the presidential administration—with one nuance.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Boris Mints. Photo: Vladislav Shatilo/RBC
Boris Mints earned his first capital during perestroika: “It was fabulous money at the time—140-150 thousand rubles.” He was an associate professor of higher mathematics at the Ivanovo Textile Institute when he started working at a youth center for scientific and technical creativity (NTTM) in 1987. Mints wrote programs for automating jobs at textile mills, and along with them, he sold computers through his NTMM, receiving non-cash payments from enterprises, which were then cashed out. This scheme—selling computers and converting the sales into cash through an NTTM—was also employed by the future oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
In 1990, Mints became involved in privatizing the Ivanovo economy, heading its property management committee. In this capacity he met the head of the federal property committee, Anatoly Chubais, who hired him to join his team. Chubais then became the head of the presidential administration, and Mints was appointed head of the presidential office on local government. This position put him in contact with Russia’s leading lights, including Boris Yeltsin.
My father, Ildar Yulbarisov, graduated from the geology faculty of Moscow State University in 1981 and went off to explore the depths in the most remote corners of our Soviet homeland. In 1990, he was elected First Secretary of the Ufa City Komsomol Committee, but a year later he left because he “did not want to see the country and the Party fall apart.” My father enrolled in the Russian Academy of Foreign Trade in Moscow, while also working at the Bashkirian mission there. In 1994, my father returned to Bashkiria, where he worked for seven years. He would bring us chak-chak and Moscow sausage from Ufa.
The Mintses moved to Moscow in 1994. The Yulbarisovs had moved there in 1991. The two families crossed paths at Timiryazevskaya subway station.
“Dad, do you remember how you met Boris Mints?”
“I was hired to work in the administration of the President of the Republic of Bashkortostan. We knew the country’s leadership and the administration of the President of the Russian Federation, of course. One day Boris Mints showed up there. You and your brother went to visit them once, and your mother asked me to go pick you up. Boris opened the door. We greeted each other like old acquaintances. I told him that we were in the same system, and hinted that I would also like to move to Moscow. Then he invited me to his office on Staraya Ploshchad, and I invited him to Ufa for Sabantuy. There he met with President Murtaza Rakhimov. Mints was very pleased with the trip. When I accompanied on the way back, he said, ‘Murtaza is happy with you. You shouldn’t leave.'”
The 90s came to an end, as did the Yeltsin era. Vladimir Putin came to power, recruiting a new team. In 2000, Boris Mints left the presidential administration to invest in commercial real estate. In 2000, my father left the post of deputy department head at the Ministry of Ethnic Policy and went into the business of oilfield exploration. Mints was ranked among the top 100 richest people in Russia, and his son Sasha made it into the top ten most eligible bachelors in the country. In the Yulbarisov household, buckwheat and chicken on the table were replaced by pilaf and vak belyashi, which my father cooked with goose. I saved up the money I was given for lunch, spending it on dates with girls in cafes. I pretended that I wasn’t hungry.
The Mintses went to MGIMO to study international economic relations, while I continued a family tradition by majoring in journalism at Moscow State University. Once our football team played at MGIMO. We went nuts in the stands, burning flares and, finally, pissing the hell out of their gym, because no one liked the rich kids from MGIMO, not even the rich kids from Moscow State.
What the Mintses Fear
Ildar Yulbarisov, the last First Secretary of the Ufa Komsomol Committee, 1990. Photo: Vechernyaya Ufa
“Dad, according to my rough calculations, we are 1,500 times poorer than the Mintses. Why is there such a difference, if you both worked in government, and then went into business?”
“No big business is created by the labor of the people who own it because it is impossible to create such value independently: there are physiological limits. Capital accumulates only if the surplus value that other people create is confiscated from them. And if you add financial fraud to capitalist exploitation, in which people “voluntarily” engage in wage labor, you get these incredible figures. I have never taken anything that belonged to someone else.”
“Maybe Mints worked harder and better than you?”
“He had a chance, and took it. It was facilitated by his personal qualities, upbringing, and system of values. He went into politics to achieve personal enrichment. I’m a simple Soviet man.”
“Did you want to take bribes and steal when you worked in politics? Or did you just not have the chance?”
“No. I was involved in two election campaigns. They would bring us cash and put it on the table. I didn’t take a kopeck, because I’m an idealist. I was 26 years old when I became a full-time Komsomol worker. I had a clear idea of what I was doing: helping people and improving life in the republic. My father taught me to be honest, and the Komsomol taught me to be responsible to the people. We had a big NTTM attached to the Komsomol city committee in Ufa. They sold everything there, and then would go booze it up at a restaurant. They gave me Italian shoes. I didn’t have to do what they did, since we lived well under communism. I had a salary of 525 rubles a month, your mother worked as a teacher and made another 220 rubles a month. We set half of it aside.”
“Are you comparing yourself to Mints?”
“No, we have had different lives. I’m not jealous, because we had unequal opportunities. There were much fewer opportunities to earn money working for the regional authorities. Today, it is obvious that the Russia inside the Garden Ring and the Russia outside it are two different countries.”
“What is the main difference between the Yulbarisovs and the Mintses?”
“Over three decades, capitalism in Russia has degenerated into its most savage form, dividing people into the poorest and richest strata. According to the most conservative estimates, five percent of the population owns seventy percent of the wealth in Russia. We are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, while the Mintses are at the top. But the situation on the moral ladder is different: the Yulbarisovs are at the top, while Mintses are at the bottom. We’re poor, but we’re honest.”
“You know that sounds like an excuse, right?”
“That’s exactly what it sounds like. I’m not worried about it. It’s you young people who are out of luck. Now wages are paid so people don’t die of hunger, and in addition there is the cult of consumption and the cult of success. The world is getting worse, but I’m sure there will be a limit. Either the people will revolt, or the Communists will come to power. Rich people like Mints are afraid of this.”
The Code for Black Dragons
Midway upon the journey of my life, I found myself in a forest dark. Then I found my Bodhi Tree and sat under it, wondering what the forest was, who I was, and where I was going. I recalled my childhood and formulated four truths that I understood from my friendship with the Mintses.
Truth No. 1. I realized that all my life I had suffered from envy, from unfavorable comparisons and the sense of my own inferiority. I even set aside a page in my diary where I write down all the people I have envied. The habit of constant comparison has nurtured in me a capacity for reflection and self-awareness: comparing myself with others, I become aware of my position vis-à-vis all phenomena in the world.
Truth No. 2. It’s not my fault. The dark forest existed before I showed up, and my path has been shaped by the objective layout of obstacles in the thicket. I have extended this truth to all people. We are not to blame for anything, and especially for our poverty, since we are not able to choose the families into which we are born or the societies in which we live. My son had no choice either.
Truth No. 3. I have to work because I have no property. I have extended this truth to all people. People are the same everywhere, and human need is everywhere the same. The poor man works to live, and the rich man lives off his work, repeating again and again, “If you work harder and better, you’ll become like me.”
Truth No. 4. Their family’s social class is a determining factor in the lives of individuals. But it is merely a historically transitory form, a flaw in the capitalist system that we can overcome through collective effort.
We sit in the same chair, playing the same game. Let’s enter the code for the black dragons and win at last!
But we have been separated by capital—by a billion-dollar chasm.
What can I set against a billion dollars of capital? Only my own existential experience. I’ve seen things you never dreamed of. A crowd dressed in black, destroying the cozy streets of Copenhagen in a frenzy. Police sirens wailing in the rain, punctuated by singing. Hugs with a masked stranger: we were victorious then. I have seen things that we could have written down in our notebook. Those moments became mine forever, and I would never have wished for anything else.
I finished the text, opened a messenger app, and wrote to you. “Hello! This is Rustam Yulbarisov. We went to school together and were interested in things mystical. Do you still believe in aliens?”
Born in 1988, Rustam Yulbarisov works as a journalist in Moscow and is a socialist. Thanks to Bryan Gigantino for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader