Vladimir Putin’s friendships with the billionaires Arkady Rotenberg, Yuri Kovalchuck and Gennady Timchenko in themselves are ‘evidence of deeply entrenched corruption,’ says the New York Times. The President of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, based in Washington, says that pre-election anti-U.S. rhetoric (including accusations that it is funding opposition groups) ‘is not helpful’ to business, and ‘may imply to some people that there’s an elevated risk of some sort of nationalistic legislative consequences.’ The growth of Russia’s middle class is leading to a boost for private philanthropy, although disagreement remains over how to structure the sector. The Finance Ministry has persuaded Sberbank and VTB to reduce interest rates on loans to agricultural companies by 5%, down to 12%. VTB is planning to repurchase $547 million of shares from minority shareholders, and then sell them on to the market. Investors frozen out by the deal say the buyback is a ploy by Vladimir Putin aimed at winning votes. Steel-maker Severstal is planning an $8 billion investment in the Siberian region of Tyva which will double coal exports by 2020.