Russia's richest woman begs for a state handout

Construction magnate blamed for destroying historic city landscape

She is Russia's richest woman, and one of its most despised. Now Yelena Baturina, who rose from life as a factory worker to become a construction magnate and wife of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, is seeking a state bailout – to the joy and consternation of many.

Some are happy to see her suffer. Since Ms Baturina built her firm, Inteko, into a construction and real estate powerhouse, Moscow's landscape has been transformed. Cranes and gaudy buildings line streets that used to house centuries-old buildings and relics of Soviet architecture.

"Anything that slows down the construction that has destroyed much of old Moscow is welcome," said Kevin O'Flynn, co-founder of the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society. "Baturina has undoubtedly been a part of that."

But many are up in arms that Ms Baturina, who has fallen off the Forbes list of billionaires after two years as Russia's first and only female billionaire, could be saved by the state as average Russians continue to see their quality of life deteriorate.

Her latest plan was the erection of Project Orange, a building designed by Lord Foster, on the banks of the Moskva River. The building, in the shape of a massive peeled orange, would replace the Soviet-era House of Artists, an ugly building but one that carries the heft of history. There is no word yet whether that project will be delayed as the financial crisis wreaks havoc on the Russian economy, turning the capital into something of a construction graveyard.

How Ms Baturina, 46, built her fortune is a twisted tale, and one best told carefully. She is fiercely protective of her image, and, in particular, her relationship with Mayor Luzhkov.

Ms Baturina took her first job at a Moscow factory upon graduating from high school in early 1980s, as the Soviet Union stood poised to enter a slump from which it would never recover. She soon switched tack, taking a degree from a management university and then holding advisory positions with the Moscow government. That is how she met her future husband, then an up-and-coming politician who would become the mayor of the capital in 1992, swept up in a wave of popularity that faded as rumours of corruption grew during his 16-year rule.

They married in 1991, the same year Ms Baturina and her brother Viktor founded Inteko. Viktor Baturin is no longer involved with the firm, after publicly falling out with his sister and suing her in 2007 for wrongful dismissal.

As Mr Luzhkov's power grew, there were suggestions that Ms Baturina's own corporate growth benefited. She has denied, however, that her relationship with Moscow's mayor has been the reason for her success – she sued (successfully) the Russian edition of Forbes, alleging it twisted a quote to imply that her links to power were key to her success.

As Mr Luzhkov undertook the task of remaking the Russian capital, Ms Baturina's fortunes grew. Her firm won contract after contract, including federal and municipal ones to build more housing as the capital's population exploded. By 2006, she became the first Russian woman to enter the Forbes ranking of world billionaires, with an estimated fortune of £1.6bn. That fortune rose to £3bn in 2008. In July of that year, she put down £50m for a 90-room, 18th-century mansion in Highgate, London.

She has managed to shrug off scandal. Media reports in the late 1990s questioned how she got a contract to fill Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium with 85,000 seats, but the deal was never investigated.

With her wealth now estimated to be hovering just below $1bn (£710,000), her fortunes have clearly changed. Last week, Ms Baturina appealed to the government for £1bn in loan guarantees. Her spokesman, Gennady Terebkov, says the guarantees will cover new loans for new projects. No current projects, he added, would be frozen or delayed. Analysts say that is hard to believe.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own