These Russia-Linked Billionaires Need You To Know They’re Not Russian
RRussia’s ultra-rich have been through a tough time. Since Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and his invasion of Ukraine in February, 34 current and former Russian billionaires have been hit with sanctions by the United States, United Kingdom or European Union. Authorities have frozen their businesses, tracked down their superyachts and grounded their jets.
No wonder then that in recent years – and especially in recent months –Forbes noticed a growing trend: many billionaires with ties to Russia really really I don’t want to be called Russian.
Some have more legitimate claims than others. Take Pavel Durov, born in St. Petersburg, created the Russian social network VK, was ousted from the company after interfering with Putin’s government over censorship issues, he went on to found the encrypted messaging app Telegram, now an essential communication tool for Ukrainians. “Pavel left Russia many years ago with no intention of returning,” a spokesperson said. Forbes. After four years of being listed as a Russian citizen, Durov – who lives in Dubai, where Telegram is based – wanted to let it be known that he became a French citizen Last year. (He would also have a Saint Kitts and Nevis passport.)
Igor Bukhman told a similar story. He and his brother Dmitri grew up in Vologda, about 300 miles northeast of Moscow, where they co-founded mobile games company Playrix in 2004. They moved the company to Ireland in 2013, but still have thousands of employees divided between Russia and Ukraine. The Bukhmans, who now live in London, asked Forbes to be listed as citizens of Israel, where they immigrated in 2016, rather than Russia.
Nik Storonsky, the 37-year-old co-founder of London-based digital bank Revolut, grew up in Russia but left when he was 20. Storonsky, who has criticized the war, is a dual British and Russian citizen – or, as his PR flack framed it: “Nik is a British citizen.”
Others have much deeper ties to Russian business and politics. Eugene Shvidler is known as the best friend and business partner of Roman Abramovich, one of Russia’s most notorious (and sanctioned) oligarchs. In March, the British government sanctioned Shvidler, a resident of London, for his “close business ties” with Abramovich. Shvidler has stakes in Russian steel and nickel companies, but has long insisted he is not Russian. “Mr. Shvidler is not and has never been a citizen of the Russian Federation“said an associate of Shvidler, who claimed not to write on behalf of the billionaire. Forbes (bold and underlining his). He was born in a Soviet region of Russia, of course, the person said, but technically he never had a Russian passport and he has been a US citizen since 1994 and a British citizen since 2010.
Born in Soviet Ukraine, Len Blavatnik, who grew up in Russia and immigrated to America in 1978 at the age of 21, became wealthy by associating with the oligarch Viktor Vekselberg (sanctioned by the United Kingdom and the United States, for his “close ties” with Putin) in Russian. oil and aluminum companies. Blavatnik, who was not sanctioned, left Russia and is well known these days for his investments in non-Russian companies like Warner Music, chemical manufacturer LyondellBassell and fashion brand Tory Burch – and for his large donations to Stanford, Harvard and Oxford, where his money has drawn controversy. Blavatnik is quick to note that he is an American and British citizen and, as his spokesperson made clear to Forbes in 2018, “is not Russian, has never been Russian, and is not an oligarch”.
And then there’s Yuri Milner. Russia’s most influential tech investor, he was an early backer of Facebook and Twitter through his venture capital fund, DST Global. His own early contributors included Russian state bank VTB and a subsidiary of majority oil and gas giant Gazprom, both today under sanctions. Another benefactor: Alisher Usmanov, a prominent oligarch who has been sanctioned by the EU, UK and US (Usmanov called the sanctions “unfair” and pledged to “use all the legal means to protect [his] honor and reputation. “) Milner, now a prominent VC from Silicon Valley who has not been sanctioned and who condemned the war, has long tried to distance itself from Russia. In a “fact sheet” published on his website, Milner, who was born in Moscow and studied physics at Moscow State University, points out that he has been a citizen of Israel – where he moved to in 2005 – since 1999, and that he has resided in California since 2014. ‘97% of Yuri’s personal wealth was created outside of Russia,’ promises Milner. He ‘hasn’t been to Russia since 2014’, ‘has no assets in Russia” and “has never met Vladimir Putin”. And, above all, of course: “In April 2020, in its annual list of billionaires, Forbes magazine reclassified Yuri from its Russian list to its Israeli list, confirming his links close to the country.