Construction companies in Russia have struggled to finish off their work [EPA]

The financial crisis has hit Russia hard, but one of its first millionaires has come up with a solution he believes can save the country, and the world, from economic ruin.

"Moscow City" is Russia's new business district, a gleaming collection of skyscrapers on the banks of the river Moskva, but in recent months construction work has slowed. 

What was meant to be the tallest building in Europe has had to shave off floors from the original design. 

In video


'Father of Russia's Wall Street' outlines his scheme

Now workers in Moscow's financial hub dart between board meetings nervously clutching super-sized cups of coffee. 

These buildings were started at a time when the Russian economy was strong, but since the financial crisis swept the globe, construction companies have struggled to find the funding to finish off their work. 

Atop one skyscraper is German Sterligov, one of Russia's first multi-millionaires. He has reincarnated the age-old system of bartering - a move he claims can save the world from economic ruin.

Debt exchange

I am led past reception through the heart of Sterligov's online operation, called the Anti-Crisis Settlement and Accounting Centre.

Here dozens of young workers tap feverishly at their computer terminals. Sterligov is in the middle of a board meeting with potential clients from across Europe. 

He assures me that people are queuing up to adopt his scheme. Judging by the number of phone calls he receives in the space of a minute, I can't help but believe him.

Sterligov says his system can replace bank loans, which he says are unreliable 
When the financial world began to collapse around him, Sterligov hired computer programmers to create an interactive database that would allow users to exchange goods and debts worldwide.

I ask Sterligov to illustrate further. He grabs a piece of paper and begins hastily sketching out a spider diagram. 

Steel Company A has an estimated debt of $1m to Coal Company B for supplies.

Company B then puts information about company A's non-payment on Sterligov's system and then lists what products it needs itself.

Company A then puts $1m of steel into the system.

With a bit of luck a buyer will then surface that wants company A’s steel, paying the $1m that can then be used to settle A's debt with company B.

Company A will still be $1m out of pocket, but no worse off than if it had borrowed the money from a bank and had to pay off a $1m debt.

Apocalyptic vision

Sterligov's plan is to allow companies to generate hard cash to repay debts, instead of using bank loans, which he deems unreliable.

Under the system users are able to transfer debts in exchange for goods, and pay off their debts quickly.

He says the more users there are in the system, the more companies can pass their debts and stay afloat.

"For the whole thing to work," he says, "there need to be thousands of companies using the system.

"This is not really a barter system because in a barter system you exchange goods for goods and that's it. But in this system money is used several times ... you can exchange debt for goods too."

Sterligov works hastily. He harbours an apocalyptic vision of the future.  "The financial crisis", he despairs, "is the first step towards world war and annihilation". 

Change in lifestyle

The 41-year-old is a one time darling of Russia's young market economy, credited with creating the country's answer to Wall Street. 

At the age of 24, Sterligov was one of the wealthiest men in the country, with business interests ranging from running a security firm to making films. 

All that changed in 2004 when he sank the bulk of his fortune into challenging Vladimir Putin in his re-election bid. 

Sterligov traded a life built on wealth to one based on getting back to nature
"There were powerful people who didn't want me to remain rich," Sterligov tells me.

Since then he's been living with his family in a wooden house 100km outside the capital. 

He became a devout Orthodox Christian over a decade ago, cultivating a life and beard worthy of Leo Tolstoy. 

When we arrive at his country retreat, I can't help but feel that this is a man at odds with the outside world. 

He has a startling array of weapons, including a mounted machine gun sitting on his porch. 

His teenage daughter, one of five children, even takes me out shooting. 

Safeguarding the future

There is something in this self-styled utopia that needs defending. 

Sterligov denounces homosexuality, abortion and women who wear trousers. 

Sterligov demonstrates that generating business plans is not his only strength
He insists on teaching his children history at home and needed a significant amount of convincing, his wife Alyona told me, before allowing his daughter to go to university. 

His ultra-conservative beliefs seem to jar with a man knee deep in materialist ventures in the office and knee deep in cow-muck on the farm. 

In the outhouses on his barb-wire-rimmed estate, Sterligov shows me his chickens, horses and goats. 

"Only by losing all of my money," he insists "did I realise how to live."

However, Sterligov is reluctant to tell me where the millions used to finance his latest venture come from.

If successful, his Anti-Crisis Settlement and Accounting Centre will make him rich but the real prize, he insists, is to safeguard a future for his children free from financial strife.

Source: Al Jazeera