Five days before meeting with the eleven frightened journalists from NTV, President Putin met with twenty-one intimidated businessmen from the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. These oligarchs included the heads of Russia’s largest companies, Rem Vyakhirev of Gazprom and Anatoly Chubais of United Energy Systems; the heads of Lukoil, Yukos Oil and Sibneft oil companies; the chairmen of Alfabank, Promstroibank and the Interros financial group; and the head of the Russky Aliuminyi group that controls about 80 percent of the country’s aluminum production.

These captains of industry must have taken note of the empty chairs around the table. Boris Berezovsky, the auto-banking-airline-energy-media tycoon who won election to parliament? Indisposed, unable to attend to due to fear of prosecution. Vladimir Gusinsky, of Most Bank and Media-Most, the close friend of the mayor of Moscow? Otherwise engaged, by reason of house arrest in Spain (see above). Pavel Borodin, godfather of the Kremlin, former head of the billion-dollar Property Office and Vladimir Putin’s erstwhile boss? Unavoidably detained, in the United States on a Swiss warrant, with President Putin curiously silent about his fate.

The discussion with the president centered on legislative and regulatory issues: tax breaks, transfer pricing, red tape, currency controls. Putin promised, as he has before, not to launch a general review of the privatizations of the 1990’s. With the sermon over, he passed the plate, asking for contributions of 1.5 billion rubles (about $2.6 million) to create a fund to assist the families of Russian soldiers killed or wounded in action. That comes to about $125,000 per oligarch.