That's rich: Russia embraces its own capitalist's handbook

The American financial magazine 'Forbes' has chosen Lenin's birthday to launch a new edition in the cradle of communism, writes Andrew Osborn
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The Independent Online

Russia completed the final stage of its sometimes brutal conversion from communism to capitalism yesterday when a local edition of the "capitalist's handbook", the American financial magazine Forbes, went on sale across the world's largest country for the first time.

Thirteen years after the collapse of Soviet power, the glossy Russian-language version of the magazine hit the newsstands in a country that has long since traded in its commissars for super-rich oligarchs.

The moment was rich with irony. Forbes was founded in America by B.C. Forbes, a Scottish immigrant, in 1917, the year that Vladimir Lenin brought revolution to Russia. Bizarrely, the launch party for the new version of the business magazine will be held on 22 April, Lenin's birthday.

"The guy who killed capitalism was Lenin and our launch event is on his birthday. It's funny," says Irina Silayeva, the general manager of Axel Springer Russia, the company that is publishing Forbes. "We think the magazine is really appropriate for Russia today. We have so many business people here now: big and small ones, not just oligarchs."

Ms Silayeva says the Russian magazine is aimed at chief executive officers and "people who make decisions", but argues that the name Forbes also has a special appeal for Russia's young. "Focus groups show that very young, commercially oriented people who are dreaming of becoming chief executives are really interested. The Forbes name is well known here and for them it's a dream."

The magazine is being sold in Moscow, St Petersburg, Samara and Yekaterinburg in the first instance, with a print run of 40,000. The first issue is dripping with the must-have accessories for every good capitalist, with glossy advertisements for handmade Italian leather shoes, Rolex watches, bespoke English tailored suits, luxury Moscow apartments and expensive cars.

Marketed in Russia as "the capitalist's tool", the front cover is dominated by a burly Russian steel kingpin, his jacket flung casually over his shoulder with a Mercedes in the background. In the tradition of the original American magazine, the Russian Forbes carries numerous profiles of successful Russian entrepreneurs in businesses ranging from extracting natural resources to pharmaceuticals.

Features on luxury safari holidays in Botswana jostle for attention with articles about expensive Paris restaurants and English Premier League football, a subject that enthuses most Russians these days thanks to Roman Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea.

In the magazine's foreword, Pavel Klebnikov, the chief editor, argues that the time is ripe for a Russian version of Forbes. "The fact that the Russian market is ready for the appearance of such a publication is a sign that Russian business has begun a new, more civilised stage in its development," he writes. "Today Russia is standing on the threshold of a new era ... we will become the witnesses of a great renaissance in Russian society. Unprecedented opportunities are opening up before the [Russian] business world and new problems at the same time. In these complicated times Forbes, I hope, will be your faithful companion."

The magazine is being published under licence from Forbes by the German publishing giant Axel Springer, a company that also has designs on The Daily Telegraph. In a country where many in the media appear to be in the pockets of some of the country's super-wealthy businessmen, Mr Klebnikov promised that Forbes would remain steadfastly independent. In an overt nod to the magazine's original founder, he told readers that money wasn't everything and that "God, moral values and a sense of citizenship" were also important.

The magazine's launch was far from simple. A Russian businessman, Viktor Chernyshev, took advantage of the post-Soviet chaos to snap up the Russian rights to the Forbes name in 1996 and has been trying to persuade the company to buy it back from him.

At one point he offered to hand over the name if the Forbes family gave its collection of Russian Fabergé eggs - the second-largest in the world after the Kremlin's - to a Russian museum. In the event a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, bought the eggs from the Forbes children earlier this year for an undisclosed price, thought to be about $90m (£50m), and promised to bring them back to Russia.

A separate legal battle for the right to the Russian Forbes name ensued and ended in victory for Forbes and Axel Springer. "We just need the final document to be signed," Ms Silayeva says.

Forbes magazine is best known in Russia for the regular "rich lists" it publishes. The latest, out in March, indicated that the number of Russian billionaires had jumped to 25, and that Russia had more billionaires than Japan for the first time. Moscow, with 23 resident billionaires, was second only to New York, which had 31.

That capitalism - albeit a more raw Russian strain - now reigns in Russia becomes more evident as each month goes by. McDonald's now has more than 30 restaurants across the country and designer clothes shops worthy of Milan and Paris crowd Moscow's streets. The Ferrari Maserati Group is opening its first official dealership in Moscow in a few weeks and Rolls-Royce recently opened a showroom with the prestigious address "Red Square No. 1". The capital's streets have long been clogged with ostentatious limousines, expensive restaurants are burgeoning and property prices are increasing at a rate that makes even the London market look slow.

Not everyone has been a winner, however, and at least one-third of Russia's population remains stuck below the poverty line. Many are still nostalgic for the stability that the Communist Party brought and would be hard-pressed to afford the $2 (£1.10) that each issue of the Russian Forbes costs. The average monthly wage is $200.