Russian oligarchs search for the secret of eternal youth

According to popular opinion, Russia's super-rich are solely interested in material things and only a handful of subjects: oil, metals, Courchevel, and offshore. These rumors may have some basis in fact. But times are changing. Not that Russia's billionaires are suddenly thinking about things eternal, about their souls. But 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 investing fairly large sums to that end. Former metals trader Oleg Deripaska has been giving Academician Vladimir Skulachev $5 million a year to develop youth tablets. Dmitry Zimin, founder of Russia's largest telecommunications concern, is also financing new medicines to stave off old age. Meanwhile, Timur Artyomov, creator of one of Russia's largest chains for the sale of cell phones, has launched an anti-ageing institute with a start-up investment of $25 million. The first results are already in. Skulachev says he has developed a powerful antioxidant which can enormously slow, if not stop, the ageing process. Animal trials have already started. To wit, a 20-year-old horse that was blind for eight years has regained its sight. Vision has been restored as well to several test cats and dogs. So far Skulachev's compound has proved most effective in treating various forms of blindness associated with old age.

Timur Artyomov's results are more modest: he has managed to increase the lifespan of test worms by 20%. Trials with mice are about to begin. Still, these are the results that the developers feel can be made public. The public is anxious and spreading rumors that the elixir of youth has already been created but is being kept a secret. Consequently, oligarchs and senior officials will live 500 years, while the Russian people, as always, won't get anything.

That said, the idea of searching for an elixir of youth has been in our Russian blood for centuries. We've all been brought up on Russian fairy tales where this subject features prominently. The folktale hero Ivan the Fool searches for - and finds - the Apples of Youth. A silly tsar, in an effort to regain his youth ahead of 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 "stagnation". At that point, the entire Soviet leadership was not only elderly, but very elderly. The average age of a Politburo member was well past 70. No wonder Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power at the tender age of 54, seemed almost a stripling by comparison. In any case, at that time high-ranking Soviet officials did not go into retirement, only death could cause them to leave their post. Naturally, they were all anxious to delay that unpleasant moment. Ordinary Russians ascribed their political longevity to secret compounds developed in the KGB's scientific laboratories. Faith in these mythic potions exists even today. Brands like 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 average billionaire 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. Only yesterday they were Ivan the Fool and suddenly, with a wave of their magic wand, they've become Tsar Ivan. Fifteen years ago, no one had ever 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. But after that, how can one not believe in miracles? Everything is in one's power, no task is 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 untimely financial crisis to contend with. The search for eternal youth may have to be suspended. Then again, isn't a crisis the ideal time to consider things eternal?

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