Back in the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed, the ownership of Russia passed from the state to the people through a well-intended but chaotic system of vouchers for everyone. Of course, aggressive people ended up owning nearly everything and, to a great extent, Russia is now run by a gang of shadowy oligarchs. When Putin came to power he had a meeting with the oligarchs and essentially said, “I’ll let you continue to make money if you stay out of politics.” With this alliance (and the hard lesson taught when a couple of oligarchs who got political were thrown in jail), the oligarchs generally stay out of Putin’s way and he stays out of theirs. The oligarchs have to do a bit of a balancing act in order to keep the public from rising up against them, and they occasionally do good deeds. Just like the Koch brothers fund some high culture in the US, oligarchs in Russia donate to the opera and provide parks like this one, New Holland. It is an oligarch-owned oasis of calm and grassy elegance in the middle of St. Petersburg that fills a former military shipyard. People love it, and it’s a public relations coup for the oligarch. Here’s a brief tour.
If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.