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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Oligarch fight club

If you think that super-rich property developers who trash anyone who isn't a billionaire deserve a smack in the face, it seems you're not alone.

Alexander Lebedev agrees with you.

The KGB officer-turned-media magnate was probably doing what many people in the audience felt like when he punched construction tycoon Sergei Polonsky during an NTV talk show over the weekend.

The show, on the subject of the financial crisis, got particularly heated after Polonsky accused Lebedev of spreading a rumor about a crack in the Moskva-City skyscraper his firm was building.

Lebedev, eschewing the handsoff style of a liberal newspaper proprietor, went in with fists flying, prompting Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, to tweet admiringly: "You're a real man."

Whatever its rights and wrongs, the brawl seems to symbolize current divisions among Russia's business and political elite quite well.

Polonsky's arrogance for many ordinary Russians reflects the way the oligarchs made massive profits in the wake of the 2008-9 crisis while millions found their living standards falling. And the crack in the skyscraper seems an apt analogy for the potential disaster awaiting Russia's rickety energy-addicted economy if oil prices fall.

The TV brawl comes just days after another billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, lashed out verbally at Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, whom he accused of using Machiavellian dark arts to wreck his liberal Right Cause party.

In their own way both incidents, like the differences over whether Putin or Medvedev should be president in 2012, reflect widening splits in the elite over the way forward.

The brewing rows are not just over who should take the blame for the last economic crisis (and the next one), but who will win and lose control over key assets in the election shakeup.

Most importantly, they also reflect the ruling tandem's indecision about how far to cut public spending after the election. Too deep, and the authorities risk the anger people feel at tycoons like Polonsky becoming more generalized.

But what is really damaging about the Lebedev and Prokhorov rows is that they are not "under the carpet" but very much in public.

And this, as we know, breaks the first rule about Fight Club, which is "Don't talk about Fight Club."

Russia, Economy, Business, Investment, Trade - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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