MONDAY: Mother Russia, Meet Uncle George

Philanthropist writes Moscow a $500M check

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MOSCOW:George Soros, as everyone knows, wants to change the world. But into what? And is he the kind of person the U.S. wants doodling on Russia's new blank slate?

For a philanthropist, Soros has a host of detractors. They're generally unabashed free-marketeers who say Soros is the wrong kind of rich man: a speculator scared of markets (though not, obviously, for himself) and one paradoxically bent on eliminating his own kind with mushy proto-communism.

Now he's in Russia, and deeper than ever. Over the past ten years, Soros has contributed more than $350 million in the country, much of it on science, technology and education. He is about to more than double that amount, this time on mostly health care and a plan to retrain part of the Russian military for civilian life.

But Soros is still a businessman. And those tidy philanthropic sums seem small next to the $980 million investment Soros has just sunk into a 25% stake in Russia's state telecommunications monopoly, Svyazinvest. In the largest privatization deal in Russian history, Soros joined with Russia's Oneximbank to buy a 25 percent stake in the company.

Today, Soros deflected charges that by joining forces with Oneximbank's politically influential president, Vladimir Potanin, he had become involved in a Russian political system that he has sharply criticized. "I have not become a player in Russian politics by associating myself with Mr. Potanin," he said. "I have become a player in the Russian market." Considering the rapacious flavor of Russia's newest age, many are certain to view the two influences as simultaneous.