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The New York Times: Ivanishvili earned his money in a cutthroat environment
12:35 12.10.2012
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Reporter Ellen Barry publishes an extensive article about Bidzina Ivanishvili in The New York Times. “” offers it invariably:  The New York Times: ‘More than 20 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the West has become familiar with a wide variety of leaders to emerge in this space — Soviet apparatchiks, fierce nationalists, K.G.B.-trained strongmen — but Bidzina Ivanishvili, nominated Monday as Georgia’s next prime minister, does not resemble any of them, not even remotely.

Before last year, when Mr. Ivanishvili, a reclusive oligarch, vowed to topple President Mikheil Saakashvili, barely anyone knew what he looked like. The country’s richest man, Mr. Ivanishvili lived in a sealed environment of his own making, raising zebras, practicing yoga and amassing a $1.3 billion art collection from his palatial compounds, including one in the mountain village where he was born.

Western leaders had a year to get used to Mr. Ivanishvili, 56, as an opposition figure. But his first hours as a national leader set off alarm bells: Moments after Mr. Saakashvili had conceded defeat in parliamentary elections, Mr. Ivanishvili gave an acrimonious news conference in which he recommended that the president resign immediately, a year before his term ends. A day later Mr. Ivanishvili retracted his comment, suggesting that he had not been aware that it would set off a panic in Western capitals.

This political transition is no casual matter. The United States has sunk extraordinary resources into this small country, a pro-Western bastion on Russia’s southern border and a transit point for energy and military goods. Mr. Ivanishvili has such a scant track record in public life that it is difficult to know how he will handle decisions in the coming months, as Russia seeks to draw Georgia closer and as his followers call for punishing departing officials.

“My main feeling is that he’s a bit of a blank page, politically speaking,” said Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “He is a page with a lot of blank spaces, and he is prepared for a lot of people to write in policies in the blanks. It’s undeserved luck on the part of the U.S.”

Mr. Ivanishvili moved to Moscow in 1982 and returned to Georgia two decades later with a fortune made in the metals and banking industries that Forbes now estimates at $6.4 billion.

His success in Russia prompted rumors that his candidacy was being quietly backed by the Kremlin, and though no proof of this has emerged, much about his past is mysterious. Georgians came to know him gradually through his lavish, anonymous gifts: he paid for Tbilisi’s gold-domed cathedral, bought boots for the army and drenched his own village with free benefits.

Though he earned his money in a cutthroat environment, Mr. Ivanishvili appears soft-spoken and curiously unsophisticated. His first interviews with Western reporters yielded little sense of how he would govern, beyond removing Mr. Saakashvili, a former ally. A devotee of psychoanalysis, Mr. Ivanishvili would reflect on the struggle between the president’s conscious and unconscious minds, or say that Mr. Saakashvili “is not managing his character well” and “doesn’t understand what love is.”
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