Oligarchs control a vast amount of wealth and influence in Russia today. How did these business titans rise to power and what is their relationship to the government?

We have pulled a large excerpt from David Hoffman's 2004 talk on his book The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in Russia. Researched and written during a key time period—when the wealth and power of oligarchs was strong and rising and Putin had served only a few years in executive office—Hoffman gives a clear look at the rise and sudden fall of the man who was once the richest in Russia: Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The transcript found below has been minimally edited and would serve as great background reading for anyone wanting to learn about the rise of the oligarch class and the fragility of their position in Russian society.

By reading through the piece, one can address the questions central to Hoffman's talk: "What are capitalists in a land that was hostile to the idea for seven decades? What are criminals in a state without the rule of law?"