About the Series
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia became a wild east in which communist central planning was supplanted by crude, free-wheeling capitalism. A small number of people – dubbed “oligarchs” by the press – became enormously wealthy by seizing control of state assets or buying them at knock-down prices. President Vladimir Putin, who came to power unexpectedly on the last day of 1999, re-imposed stability, while stronger oil prices fueled growth.
But critics of Putin’s Russia, both inside the country and out, contend that a well-connected elite continues to enrich itself unfairly from the state.
Early last year Reuters journalists set out to investigate how that happens. The team, led by special correspondent Stephen Grey, found evidence that the key to making money now is not seizing control of firms but tapping into state spending.
The reporters examined some of the Russian state’s biggest spenders – including the health system and publicly-owned Russian Railways. They found that large sums of public money were regularly paid to obscure private companies, and that substantial expenditure was captured by well-connected individuals.
Some information – billions of dollars of Russian Railways’ tenders for outsourcing work, for instance – was publicly available. Reporters analysed that data and other information provided by sources, including two years’ records of transactions through two Moscow banks. Further details were gathered from dozens of interviews and on the ground reporting in Russia and other countries.
Though each element of the inquiries was different, the end results showed a pattern: Significant sums of state money were passing either through intermediaries with links to Putin or into companies with secretive owners.
Reporting team: Stephen Grey, Douglas Busvine, Jason Bush, Roman Anin, Elizabeth Piper, Brian Grow, Himanshu Ojha, Maria Tsvetkova, Tom Bergin, and Sevgil Musaieva.
Additional reporting: Timothy Heritage, Gleb Stolyarov, Jack Stubbs, Alexander Winning, Maria Golovnina, Jens Hack, Polina Devitt, Clare Kane, Christian Hetzner, Michele Kambas, Oleksandr Akymenko, Pavel Polityuk, Warren Strobel and Michele Martin
Data: Himanshu Ojha
Web programming: Charlie Szymanski
Graphics: Matthew Weber, Maryanne Murray and Monica Ulmanu
Design: Troy Dunkley
Picture editor: Simon Newman
Video: Julian Satterthwaite, Juris Abramenko and David Dormer
Series editors: Richard Woods and Simon Robinson