Of course there are those who say it doesn’t matter who sits in the Kremlin offices. The real power in Russia, they say, belongs to a few men who control vast financial and industrial empires, wealth that once belonged to the Soviet state. The same few men control most of Russia’s print and broadcast media as well. Boris Berezovsky of Logovaz Bank, Yukos Oil, and other interests, controls ORT television, Echo Moskvy radio, and newspapers Nezavisimaya gazeta and Segodnya. Berezovsky’s sometime ally Vladimir Gusinsky of Most Bank owns 70% of highly profitable NTV. Rival Vladimir Potanin of Oneksimbank controls dailies Izvestia (in which LUKoil also has a large interest) and Komsomolskaya pravda. Gazprom and its chairman Rem Vyakhirev have a minority stake in NTV and control of newspapers Trud and Rabochaya tribuna.

These media outlets often provide political platforms for their owners and the politicians they back, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the owners may not have a free hand. Gusinsky runs NTV, for example, under a license the government can revoke: he must take care whom he offends. And sometimes the owners may not take their journalism seriously. As Anne Nivat of Harvard explains, for some top financiers “a newspaper is like a Mercedes 600,” a fashion accessory.