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Crisis spares Russia's 'average Joe'

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The Russian government, on the other hand, remains largely debt free, and its oil-fed foreign reserves are the world's third largest at $600 billion as of August. About 10 percent of those reserves have melted away in the past two months as the Kremlin has moved to prop up the ruble, inject liquidity into troubled banks, and support selected companies.

Many financial analysts say the crisis has greatly accelerated the growth of "Kremlin capitalism," which involves direct state ownership over strategic economic sectors as well as indirect control over larger swaths of the economy through backing for businesses run by Kremlin cronies.

"A huge redistribution of property is taking place due to the crisis," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "The political elites in the Kremlin are sure now that they've been right all along about the need for greater state control, and believe that even the West is now coming around to their point of view."

A special $50 billion line of credit to support distressed companies, approved by the Russian government last week, will go largely to state-connected firms. The state oil firm Rosneft will receive $4.5 billion and the gas monopoly Gazprom about $1 billion. Other state firms producing arms, aircraft, and other "strategic goods" will be given priority, according to Russian media reports.

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