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CHASING RUSSIAN RICHES

Who are the Russian oligarchs being sanctioned by the US?

Russian President Vladimir Putin decorates businessman Arkady Rotenberg with the Hero of Labour medal in front of a Russian flag and podium.
Alexander Nemenov/Pool via Reuters
Zeroing in on Russia’s richest.
  • Courtney Vinopal
By Courtney Vinopal

Breaking news reporter

Published Last updated

The White House announced additional sanctions against dozens of Russian oligarchs with ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin today (March 3) in response to the war in Ukraine. Eight individuals and their family members will be cut off from the US financial system, see their US assets frozen, and have their property blocked from use, according to the White House. The US will also make it harder for 19 oligarchs, their families, and close associates, to secure US visas.

“These individuals have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people, and some have elevated their family members into high-ranking positions,” the White House said in a statement.

What is an oligarch?

In Russia, oligarchs typically refer to wealthy individuals with close ties to Putin who became rich following the fall of the Soviet Union. An oligarchy refers to a government run by a small group of individuals for corrupt purposes. The fall of the USSR in 1991 created opportunities for corruption at the highest levels of the Russian government as it set out to privatize state-owned enterprises. During this time, a small group of well-connected Russians amassed wealth taking control of the state’s banks, factories, and natural resources. Today Russian billionaires control about 30% of the nation’s wealth, much of it stashed overseas. A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research paper (pdf) estimated Russian elites’ offshore assets were worth as much as the household assets of the entire Russian population.

The new sanctions add 28 individuals to a list of roughly two dozen elites already sanctioned by the US last week, including Putin himself.

Nikolai Tokarev

Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Pool via Reuters
Tokarev was awarded the title of Hero of Labor of the Russian Federation during a ceremony at the Kremlin on February 2, 2022.

As president of Transneft, Tokarev runs a state-owned oil and gas company responsible for transporting 90% of oil extracted from Russia, according to the Treasury Department. He served alongside Putin in the KGB in the 1980s, and the EU believes he helped seize control of Russian state assets in the 2000s.

Boris and Arkady Rotenberg

Boris Rotenberg (left, front, wearing a black jacket) and Arkady Rotenberg (right, front, wearing a grey jacket) react during an awarding ceremony of a judo competition in St. Petersburg, 2012.

The Rotenberg brothers own Russia’s SMP bank together. Arkady, a close friend who once did judo with Putin, oversaw the construction of a bridge between Russia and Crimea in 2018. Both brothers were sanctioned by the US in 2014 over ties to Putin.

Sergei Chemezov

Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via Reuters
Chemezov and Putin eat ice cream as they attend an opening of the MAKS 2021 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, July 2021.

A former KGB agent, Chemezov is the CEO of state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec. Chemezov’s family amassed at least $400 million worth of assets while he climbed the ranks of Putin’s inner circle, according to Pandora Papers documents, including a superyacht, offshore companies, and a real estate business in Ireland.

Igor Shuvalov

Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters
Putin meets with Shuvalov in Moscow, Russia, March 2020.

Shuvalov was once Putin’s deputy prime minister and is now the head of the Russian development bank VEB. Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny previously accused Shuvalov of using a $62 million undeclared private business jet to shuttle his wife’s prize-winning corgi dogs around the world.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin

Reuters/Misha Japaridze/Pool/File Photo
Prigozhin (L) assists Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a dinner with foreign scholars and journalists in 2011.

The wealthy businessman, nicknamed “Putin’s cook,” was indicted by the US in 2018 for heading efforts to meddle in the 2016 US election.

Dmitry Peskov

Reuters/Maxim Shemetov
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sits in front of an electronic screen during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual end-of-year news conference, December 2020.  REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Peskov is the spokesman for the Kremlin. His daughter, who reportedly spoke out against the war in Ukraine on her Instagram account, was not on the US sanctions list.

Alisher Usmanov

Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters
Putin shakes hands with Usmanov during an awarding ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia November 2018.

The Russian billionaire owns a 500-foot superyacht worth nearly $600 million that was taken by German authorities earlier this week. Usmanov is already sanctioned by the EU. The ship is currently sitting in a shipyard in Hamburg.

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