Mikhail Khodorkovsky

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Business role

Khodorkovsky studied chemistry, following in the footsteps of his Jewish father and Christian mother. With his right-hand man, Leonid Nevzlin, fully Jewish and now in exile in Israel, in 1987, "Misha" Khodorkovsky founded Menatep, Russia's first private investment bank, with the approval of Gorbachev's liberalising Kremlin. He had already shown entrepreneurial nous by setting up a firm to import badly needed computers from abroad. The big breakthrough came in late 1995 when he acquired Yukos, Russia's second biggest oil producing company, from Boris Berezovsky. Even then, the line between politics and business was hard to draw.
In 2001, Khodorkovsky founded the Open Russia Foundation to encourage liberal values and broader education; he also turned Yukos into a transparent, western-style conglomerate. This won increased loyalty from foreign investors and shares soared, but the Kremlin inner circle saw it as a threat to their power.[1]
During the build up to the collapse of communism, there was a growing awareness among Soviet authorities that they would need a Russian elite that could acquire state assets and keep them on Russian soil. Screeds have been written about the Jewish preponderance in this. One theory suggests that, because Jews were traditionally excluded from the centres of Communist Party power, they developed skills on the unofficial peripheral market. However, most oligarchs were not cunning black-marketeers in the Soviet days but often clerks, scientists and technicians - even professors - who operated quietly within the system. As it was virtually impossible for Jews to enter high-profile Moscow universities, many studied at less prestigious establishments, like the Institute of Oil and Gas, where they were, later, ideally placed to develop Russia's lucrative oil trade. By the early 1990s, six out of seven of Russia's richest tycoons were Jewish or part-Jewish.[1]


See also