Meet the oligarchs

The Russian billionaires whose jets, yachts and mansions are now in the crosshairs

Alisher Usmanov

Russians know Alisher Usmanov as one of Vladimir Putin’s “favorite” oligarchs.

Photo: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

The country’s richest man until 2015, Usmanov owns a majority stake in Russia’s second-largest phone network, MegFon, and a large stake in the iron and steel giant Metalloinvest.

But few Americans know that Usmanov also helped give us Facebook.

The billionaire began investing in the social network in 2009, when Zuckerberg’s firm was having trouble accessing funding in the wake of the financial crisis.

Usmanov ultimately poured over $900m into the firm, owning as much as 10% of the company before selling his stake in 2014 and netting himself billions.

He was also a major investor in Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Groupon and Zynga.

The Rotenbergs

They were teenage Vladimir Putin’s judo training buddies, a role they continued into adulthood.

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Clearly they were good at it, because after Putin became president he rewarded the brothers with the control of large state-owned enterprises and lucrative contracts, netting them a massive fortune.

The Rotenbergs have since built a huge family empire of international investments under a web of shell companies, which has made Arkady’s son Igor a billionaire in his own right.

Igor Shuvalov

Russia’s deputy prime minister from 2008 to 2018, Igor Shuvalov is now the chairman of VEB, the Russian development bank

Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

He has claimed to be one of Russia’s cleanest officials, telling media he transferred all his wealth to Russia in 2013, and only kept it offshore before that to avoid spoiling his kids.

But an investigation by the anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny found that Shuvalov, through a shell company, bought two London luxury apartments in 2014 for $11.4m and has used a secret private jet to fly his wife’s corgis around the world because, as one of his staffers explained, “it’s not that comfortable in business class”.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin

Legend has it he began his rise to power selling hot dogs, shortly after getting released from prison for robbery.

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The wiener venture was apparently a smash hit, and within years he had opened high-end restaurants that counted Russia’s leader among their clientele, earning him the nickname of “Putin’s chef” and catapulting him into the inner circles of Russia’s elite.

Americans might be more familiar with another one of Prigozhin’s businesses: the Internet Research Agency, which employed a troll army that began by supporting Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, before turning its efforts to influencing the 2016 US presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.

Sergey Chemezov

A former KGB officer who befriended Vladimir Putin in the 1980s while living in the same apartment building

Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin pool/Sputnik/EPA

Sergey Chemezov rose through Russia’s public and private sector in Putin’s wake, and in 2007 was appointed as CEO of Russia’s state-owned defense giant Rostec, a position he still holds today.

Chemezov was sanctioned by the US in 2014 amid Rostec’s role as a supplier for Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and Washington is targeting him again, now with his family members.

Nikolai Tokarev

Another former KGB officer and in 2007 became the head of the state-controlled oil giant Transneft.

Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Tass

he oligarch has used his position at Transneft to build a business and real estate empire, which reportedly includes sponsoring an extremely fancy palace that’s said to be personally used by Putin.

Tokarev was hit by US and EU sanctions this week.

Vladimir Potanin

Reportedly the second richest man in Russia, the banker, metals mining tycoon and former deputy prime minister

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

He was among a small circle of oligarchs who met with Putin last week as the invasion of Ukraine began.

Potanin has played a big role in American arts: he has been a board member of New York’s Guggenheim Museum for two decades, until he stepped down on Wednesday. He has also given millions to the Kennedy Center in Washington, which carved his name into a wall.

He is also known to have owned property in New York City, which came to light during a divorce fight that could cost him $7bn.

Leonid Mikhelson

Russia’s richest man in 2016, Leonid Mikhelson is the founder and chairman of natural gas producer Novatek

Photo: Sergei Bobylev/Tass

He is a close friend of Putin’s, and a business partner of Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire who has been under US sanctions since 2014.

Mikhelson loves art: along with his $200m art collection, he was on the board of trustees at New York’s New Museum from 2013 to 2017, and has sponsored exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago and London’s Tate Modern. His ostentatious superyacht, the Pacific, can reportedly accommodate two helicopters.

The tycoon is not currently subject to sanctions, though his company Novatek is.

Petr Aven

He is the head of Alfa Group, a commercial bank subject to US sanctions that helped him amass an estimated $5.5bn fortune.

Photo: Valery Sharifulin/Tass

A well-known collector of classical Russian paintings, Aven has lent works from his collection – reportedly worth $200m – to New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Neue Galerie.

Aven reportedly has never bought a plane or yacht, and told the FT “all my money goes in to art.”

That is, of course, if you don’t count the millions he spent transforming an 8.5-acre plot in England into a “KGB-proof” mansion, complete with a bomb-proof panic room.

Mikhail Fridman

He is Alfa Group’s founder and a Ukrainian-born Russian oligarch

Photo: Reuters

Fridman has made substantial investments in the United States, which include spending a reported $1bn in 2011 to buy up distressed properties across the east coast, telling the Wall Street Journal at the time, “The American market is the most well-regulated and liquid market in the world. It has the best protection for investor rights.”

Through Fridman’s investment group, LetterOne, the billionaire also sank $200m into Uber, and $50m into the telecom startup FreedomPop.

Last week, Fridman became one of the first oligarchs to speak out against the invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “tragedy” and writing that “war can never be the answer.”

Alexei Mordashov

Currently Russia’s richest man, Alexei Mordashov owns a third of Tui, Europe’s biggest tourism firm

Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

He also gained his billions as the chief executive of Russia’s largest steel and mining firm, Severstal. He is also a large shareholder of the Bank of Rossiya, which has opened up branches across Russia-occupied Ukrainian territory in recent years.

Over the last two decades, the billionaire has also poured money into the United States, investing heavily through Severstal in steel companies in the midwest before selling them for $2.3bn in 2014.

Roman Abramovich

The longtime owner of Chelsea FC, has been described by a member of the UK parliament as a “key enabler” of Putin’s regime

Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Which Abramovich has long denied.

An orphan raised by his grandparents in Siberia, Abramovich pulled himself up by his bootstraps the old-fashioned way: wriggling into the inner circles of government and then profiting hugely by selling previously state-owned assets that he acquired after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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