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Russian oligarchs seeking eternal youth

This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the contents


Russian oligarchs seeking eternal youth - Detail from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Stanislav Plutenko

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Stanislav Plutenko

In popular perception, Russia’s super-rich are only interested in material possessions plus, perhaps, oil, metals, Courchevel, and offshore exploration. There may be some basis in fact here, but times are changing. However, don’t leap to the conclusion that the thoughts of Russia’s billionaires are suddenly turning to the spiritual, though something along those lines has begun to interest them: the secret of eternal youth.

Recent reports suggest that some Russian oligarchs are seriously searching for medicines to keep them young, and are investing fairly large sums. Former metals trader Oleg Deripaska has been giving academician Vladimir Skulachev $5m a year to pursue anti-ageing research.

Dmitry Zimin, founder of Russia’s largest telecommunications concern, is also financing new medicines to stave off the effects of the years. Meanwhile, Timur Artyomov, creator of one of Russia’s largest chains of mobile phone shops, has launched an anti-ageing institute with a start-up investment of $25m.

The first results are already in. Skulachev says he has developed an antioxidant that can enormously slow, if not stop, the ageing process. Animal trials have started, and a 20-year-old horse that was blind for eight years has had its sight restored. There have been similar results with other test animals.

Timur Artyomov’s results are more modest: he has managed to increase the life span of worms by 20pc. Trials with mice are about to begin.

These are the results researchers feel can be made public. Meanwhile, there are rumours that the elixir of youth has already been created but is being kept a secret. Consequently, oligarchs and senior officials will live for 500 years, while the Russian people, as always, will get nothing.

That said, the idea of searching for an elixir of youth has been in the Russian blood for centuries. In Russian fairy tales the subject of long or eternal life features frequently. The folk-tale hero Ivan the Fool searches for – and finds – the Apples of Youth. And a silly tsar, in an effort to regain his youth before his marriage to a young beauty, jumps into a cauldron of boiling water.

This idea took an unexpected turn during the Soviet period – or rather during the last Soviet years known as the “stagnation”. The average age of a Politburo member was well past 70. No wonder Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power at 54, seemed almost a stripling by comparison.

At that time high-ranking Soviet officials did not retire: only death could prise them from their post. Naturally they were all anxious to delay that unpleasant moment. Ordinary Russians ascribed their political longevity to secret compounds developed in KGB laboratories. Faith in these mythic potions exists even today. Brands such as Kremlin Tablets and Kremlin Diet are quite popular.

Now the oligarchs are looking for their own Apples of Youth. And age has nothing to do with it: the average age of Russia’s billionaires is a little over 40, so time is on their side.

On the other hand, what else is there to do? Their wildest dreams have already come true, straight out of a Russian fairy tale.

Fifteen years ago, no one had heard of Oleg Deripaska, just out of college and trying to sell stocks on Russia’s fledgling post-Soviet stock market. In 2008 he was one of the richest men in Russia with tens of billions of dollars in capital. Everything happened too fast. After that, how can one not believe in miracles? Everything is in one’s power, no task too formidable: if we want, we’ll invent an elixir of youth or build a time machine. Tasks of global importance are essential if one is to go down in history.

True, now there’s the financial crisis to contend with and the search for eternal youth may have to be put on hold. Then again, isn’t a crisis the ideal time to consider things eternal?

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