Russia`s young capitalists are shaking up the ranks of Europe`s billionaires and injecting some youth into the elite club, according to Forbes. Five years ago, the average age of Europe`s billionaires was 62. Today, the age is 58, largely due to the 87 Russian billionaires whose average age is just 46. Without the Russians, the average age jumps back up to 60.

Among Europe`s under-40 billionaire crowd, Russian dominance is even more remarkable. Indeed, 13 of the region`s 14 under-40 hail from the former Soviet Union. They came of age around the time of communism`s fall in 1991, or soon after. Quick to embrace capitalism, these billionaires - all self-made - have quickly become rich by pulling Russia`s vast resources from the ground or building homes for the country`s burgeoning middle class.

Europe`s richest person under 40 is Sergei Popov. The 36-year-old was worth $6.4 billion in March when we last estimated his wealth. He spent the 1990s trading metals in the frosty environs of the Urals and Siberia, selling pipes and copper cable. As a client of MDM Bank, he became friendly with the company`s young owner, Andrei Melnichenko.

After the 1998 collapse of the ruble, Popov and Melnichenko made fortunes buying stakes in suddenly cheap industrial outfits. More recently, Melnichenko has made news for his high-profile spending. He hired Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera to perform at his September 2005 wedding to model Aleksandra Nikolic, also a member of the Yugoslavian band Models. He then shelled out a reported $2 million to have J.Lo perform at his wife`s 30th birthday party in April 2007.

Melnichenko and Popov aren`t the only Russian buddies to become billionaires before hitting 40. Kirill Pisarev, 39, and Yuri Zhukov, 38, founded real estate developer PIK Group together in 1994 and took it public in June 2007. The initial offering was the biggest real estate share issued in European history, and it helped propel Pisarev and Zhukov to vast riches overnight.

Another high-profile Russian who made his money in real estate development is Dmitry Zelenov, 36, whose Don-Stroy company built Moscow`s 833-foot-tall Triumph Palace apartment tower, the tallest residential building in Europe until last year.

All of these youthful Russians are married or have been married. Two who are reportedly divorced include insurance magnate Danil Khachaturov and construction tycoon Sergei Polonsky. An extreme-sports lover, the 6-foot-4-inch Polonsky once dreamed of flying to the International Space Station, but despite his wealth, he was rejected because of his height.

Europe`s most eligible billionaire bachelor is also its youngest billionaire, Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis of Germany. At 25, the dashing prince lives in his family`s castle and tours with a German auto-racing league. He made a brief appearance on Forbes` billionaires list at age 8 but actually inherited his fortune at age 18. For several years, he was the world`s youngest billionaire. Today he is the third youngest, behind the American founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Lebanese heiress Hind Hariri.

Europe`s youngest self-made billionaire is Kostyantin Zhevago. Only 19 when he started out as a finance director at a bank, he later gained a majority stake in its holding company, Finance & Credit Group. Today he is a deputy in Ukraine`s parliament. He is also, along with the German prince, one of only two European billionaires under 40 who are not from Russia.

By Zack O`Malley Greenburg, Forbes

International Herald Tribune