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Prokhorov's debut continues, with launch of Snob magazine, but Men's Journal's Taibbi offers darker portrait of oligarch's wealth

Explaining billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's backing of Snob magazine, New York Magazine's Michael Idov (a Snob contributor) wrote in May:
Prokhorov's endgame is to buy himself cultural and intellectual credibility on a massive scale and to will into existence, and lead, a group of the globalized world’s Russian-speaking elites.
That day is on us. The Wall Street Journal reported 9/13/10:
Mr. Prokhorov this week is bringing Snob, a Russian-language, general-interest magazine that caters to that country's global elite, to the U.S. Currently distributed in Russia and Britain, it will hit New York Wednesday with an initial run of about 20,000 copies of its September issue.
And a Bloomberg article made a connection to the Nets, however strained:
“Russians who live in the borough and come to games easily will be an important target audience for ticket sales,” once the Nets move, Prokhorov said. “There is certainly a crossover here with the potential Snob audience.”
An ad in the New Yorker

Part of the campaign (here's a press release from the firm behind it), as seen in the advertisement at right, includes ads in English-language publications.

The ad appeared in this week's New Yorker, perhaps not coincidentally including an article (full text for subscribers only) about arts patron Dasha Zhukova, the girlfriend of oil billionaire Roman Abramovich.

(This apparently aims to improve on the disastrous marketing campaign for Snob in London, the first place outside Russia for a brand extension, where Russian-language ads succeeded in "perplexing Brits and embarrassing local Russians," according to New York Magazine.)

The Prokhorov connection

The New Yorker article includes a few paragraphs of observations on Russia's oligarchs ("[y]ou really need to think in terms of Napoleonic France") from academic and publisher Irina Prokhorov, the sister of Mikhail.

The New Yorker notes that Mikhail Prokhorov is best known outside Russia for buying the New Jersey Nets.

It also describes an evolution in philanthropy, pointing out that, while most foundations are funded year to year or project to project, there are a few exceptions, including the Prokhorov foundation, which "tries to bring culture to dilapidated industrial towns across Russia."

Taibbi's tough take

From the New Yorker article, you wouldn't get any idea there's a bit of controversy about the source of Prokhorov's wealth, but, in a Men's Journal article (not online yet), investigative reporter Matt Taibbi (known for his slashing take on Goldman Sachs), lays out the history.

He appeared on a Fox Business interview show with Don Imus.

"It's really funny--I lived in Russia for ten years, and one of the things I covered way back when was this scandal called 'loans for shares,'" Taibbi said.

"They privatized the jewels of Soviet industry into the hands of a few gangsters, basically, and I remember covering that story very well," he said, "and I remember how angry everybody was, that all this stuff that was public property was handed over to these guys who were friends of the president."

"And then, ten, 15 years later, I come back to America and find out that one of them has become owner of the New Jersey Nets," Taibbi continued. "Prokhovov was part of this company called Norilsk Nickel. They basically won a rigged auction for one of the world's largest metals companies... Yet this guy is a hero here in the States because he's tall and he says some funny stuff on TV."

Imus asked if NBA Commissioner David Stern looked into Prokhorov.

"They said they vetted him thoroughly," Taibbi replied. "I can't speak for David Stern, but this guy, for Russians, he's sort of a symbol of this whole era when there were absolutely no rules and public wealth was just turned over to a bunch of insiders. It's unbelievable to me that he's being celebrated as this great guy."

And, I'd add, Prokhorov's gaining the benefits of subsidies, tax breaks, and eminent domain that, had he been the applicant to the city and state, might have caused legislators to pause.


  1. ...long enough to calculate how to line their pockets from the new Russian gravy train.


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