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Nina L. Khrushcheva is a professor of international affairs at The New School and the co-author of In Putin’s Footsteps: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones.

Russia has little trouble making headlines, and March was no exception. First, tens of thousands of Russians turned out to mourn opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who died in an Arctic penal colony last month. Then, many Russians lined up to vote against Vladimir Putin in the recent presidential election in a co-ordinated protest, so that no one could mistake for the truth the Kremlin’s inevitable declaration that Mr. Putin had won his fifth six-year term in a landslide. Finally, a horrifying terrorist attack on a concert venue outside of Moscow – attributed to the ISIS-K branch of the Islamic State – killed 143 people and wounded more than 300.

Were it not for so many tragedies, another kind of Russia-related story might have received far more attention. The 93-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch – who owns Fox News, the New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal in the United States, and The Times in the United Kingdom – is engaged to a Soviet-born molecular biologist 25 years his junior, Elena Zhukova.

Mr. Murdoch apparently met his bride-to-be through one of her four predecessors, his third wife Wendi Deng, who is a friend of Ms. Zhukova’s daughter, Dasha. Ms. Deng was born in China, prompting a New York Times journalist to quip to me, “The tycoon is just moving from one authoritarian-born wife to another.” He was suggesting that Mr. Murdoch may well have a type: “people who think we should all just make money (and sleep together) and not let things like democracy or equality get in the way.”

Of course, not all of Mr. Murdoch’s wives have been born in authoritarian states. Mr. Murdoch’s fourth wife was American model and actress Jerry Hall. He ended that six-year marriage by e-mail in June 2022, and by March 2023, he was proposing to another American, conservative radio host Ann Lesley Smith, who he insisted would be his last wife. Less than three weeks later, however, the engagement was called off, apparently because Mr. Murdoch could not accept Ms. Smith’s evangelical views.

As much as Mr. Murdoch profits from Fox News hosts bloviating about Christian values, he does not live by religious – or perhaps any – values. Instead, he apparently fancies himself a ladies’ man who, even at his advanced age, can trade in women like used cars. But maybe his marriage to Ms. Zhukova will be different. In any case, she could help to whet further the public’s voracious appetite for scandalous details of Murdoch’s life – the life that inspired Succession, HBO’s hit drama about a media tycoon and his emotionally crippled, backstabbing brood.

So, who is the next Mrs. Murdoch? A member of the Soviet intelligentsia, Ms. Zhukova worked at the state-run Hematology and Blood Transfusion Institute and then continued her research in molecular biology in California after the USSR’s collapse. Ms. Zhukova is not exactly new to the billionaire lifestyle. Her first husband was the Russian businessman Alexander Zhukov – one of those early-1990s talents who made money by hook or by crook in the post-Soviet “Wild East.” This lent her a certain Russian-oligarch glamour, even as she moved on to her second marriage, to a fellow immigrant biologist.

Ms. Zhukova is also a former mother-in-law of another Russian billionaire-oligarch, Roman Abramovich, who gained notoriety in the West during his nearly 20 years as owner of London’s Chelsea Football Club. A Kremlin insider, Mr. Abramovich has often served as Mr. Putin’s back-channel to the West, most prominently as an envoy in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in the weeks after the full-scale invasion of February 2022. It was because of his links to Mr. Putin that the British government forced him to sell Chelsea that year.

Despite her father’s wealth, Dasha entered the public eye only during her ten-year marriage to Mr. Abramovich. Eager to be considered more than a socialite, Dasha worked to establish herself as a gallerist and art collector, and became known as a key force behind a posh Moscow art project and exhibition space, the Garage. I was introduced to her there, though when I reached out to shake her hand, she offered me the sleeve of her white silk dress to touch instead.

Dasha’s union with Mr. Abramovich ended in 2017, but she did not remain without an oligarch for long. She married Stavros Niarchos, the grandson of a Greek shipping tycoon, in 2020, at a star-studded ceremony in Switzerland. With her impending nuptials to Mr. Murdoch, Dasha’s mother will undoubtedly contribute yet another chapter to her family’s story of wealth, power, and tabloid glamour.

As for Mr. Murdoch, it seems appropriate that America’s premier purveyor of conspiracy theories would become engaged in his twilight years to an ex-Soviet scientist whose daughter was long part of Mr. Putin’s orbit. Succession couldn’t have staged a better denouement.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2024.

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