The $24 Billion Men Who Help Run Putin’s Russia — and How the U.S. Plans to Stop Them
Friendship with Vladimir Putin has its perks. As one of the most powerful men in the world, he has a lot to offer his friends, and not all of it is on the up-and-up, reports say. In fact, the Trump Administration has taken action against a number of oligarchs who benefit from Putin’s regime and “play a key role in advancing Russia’s malign activities.”
Here we’ll show you the men in the Russian president’s inner circle and ways the U.S. has sanctioned them. See the map who swaps roles with Putin regularly (page 8) and the fate of Putin’s daughter’s estranged husband (page 11).
1. Boris Rotenberg
- Russian businessman
- Lifelong friend of Putin, played ice hockey together
- Putin awarded him $7 billion in Sochi Olympic contracts, the U.S. Treasury reported
Putin has awarded this childhood friend billions of dollars in contracts for the 2014 Sochi Olympic games. Rotenberg has amassed great wealth while Putin has ruled Russia. He went from owning a few service stations in St. Petersburg to creating a multibillion-dollar building and industrial empire.
The Panama Papers tie Rotenberg to multiple offshore shell companies in the Virgin Islands and Cyprus. Forbes listed him as being the 69th wealthiest person in Russia in 2016.
Next: A man who sees an upside to sanctions
2. Arkady Rotenberg
- Russian businessman
- Childhood friend of Putin, met in a judo class
- Said being on the U.S. sanctions list is a “positive” thing
Like his brother, Arkady Rotenberg also made billions off the Sochi Olympics contracts granted by Putin. The two siblings co-own the largest construction company for gas pipelines and electrical power supply lines in Russia. Forbes estimated Arkady’s fortune at $2.5 billion in 2017.
Both brothers are sanctioned by the U.S. According to Arkady, being on the list makes him more “concentrated” and is a “positive” thing.
Next: The largest shareholder in Putin’s favorite bank
3. Yury Kovalchuk
- Putin’s personal banker
- Head of a Communist Party-founded bank with $11 billion in assets
According to the U.S. Treasury, this close advisor to Putin is referred to as one of his “cashiers.” Yury Kovalchuk is the largest single shareholder of Bank Rossiya, closely associated with Putin and his friends. The bank’s managers handled billions of dollars in suspicious offshore transactions, reports say.
Due to his involvement with Putin and Bank Rossiya, the U.S. sanctioned Kovalchuk in 2014, freezing any of his assets within American jurisdiction.
Next: A “friendly neighbor” former KBG agent
4. Sergey Chemezov
- Russian businessman
- Met Putin when they worked for the KGB in East Germany
Sergey Chemezov has known Putin for more than 30 years, he told a Russian newspaper, which reported he is among Putin’s top three trusted friends. The became “friendly neighbors” while KGB agents in East Germany, when their families lived in the same building. Chemezov has served as chairman of different departments in Putin’s administration and CEO of multiple state-owned companies.
The Obama administration sanctioned Chemezov in 2014 for being “a trusted ally of President Putin.” This subjected him to asset freezes and travel bans.
Next: He helped fix Putin’s image problem.
5. Vyacheslav Volodin
- Speaker of Russia’s parliament
- Former aide to Putin
- Worked to soften Putin’s image after massive 2011 protests
The speaker of the State Duma previously ran the Kremlin’s domestic policy and held other high-level positions in Russian government. Following massive post-election protests in 2011 threatening Putin’s power, Volodin worked to consolidate the ruling party’s power and soften Putin’s image. His current speaker position could be considered a reward for his work.
The U.S. sanctioned Volodin in 2014, calling him one of Putin’s “closest advisors” in his decision to forcefully move into Crimea.
Next: He felt honored to be sanctioned.
6. Vladislav Surkov
- Presidential aide
- A reported mastermind behind the violent Crimea annexation
- Mocked U.S. sanctions, calling them “a great honor”
Called the “Grey Cardinal” as a behind-the-scenes decision-maker, this presidential aide coined the term “sovereign democracy” to describe Russia’s brand of authoritarian capitalism. Many perceive him a as a key figure with much influence in Putin’s administration.
Surkov was accused by the European Union in 2014 of helping Russia to annex Crimea from Ukraine. When the U.S. sanctioned him for being an aide to Putin, he responded that this was “a great honor.” He added his only interests in America were Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsburg, and Jackson Pollock.
Next: A concert musician
7. Sergei Roldugin
- Concert cellist
- Putin’s best friend, godfather to his daughter
- Reportedly placed in control of assets worth $100 million
This St. Petersburg musician is Putin’s closest friend. He introduced Putin to Lyudmila, whom Putin went on to marry in 1983. Roldugin became godfather to Putin’s older daughter, Maria. The cellist holds sizable stakes in a Russian TV advertising agency, a truck manufacturer, and Bank Rossiya, the Panama Papers reveal.
While Roldugin indicated on bank documents he is not a businessman or close to any Russian public figures, reports are he plays a role in controlling a good chunk of Putin’s fortune.
Next: The man who helps Putin get around term limits
8. Dmitry Medvedev
- Russia’s prime minister
- Close friend of Putin, seen exercising and barbecuing together
- Has swapped government roles with Putin repeatedly
Like Putin, Russia’s prime minister is from St. Petersburg and worked for the city’s mayor in the early 1990s. After he followed Putin to Moscow, Putin appointed Medvedev deputy chief of staff to the president.
In 2008, the two found a way around two-term limits by swapping president and prime minister positions. Four years later, they swapped back again. When Medvedev was president in 2010, President Barack Obama hosted him at the White House, and the two visited Obama’s favorite burger joint for lunch.
Next: Putin gave this guy a prized puppy
9. Gennady Timchenko
- Russian investor and billionaire
- Longtime friend of Putin, played hockey with him
- Accused of giving Putin access to his company’s funds
Ranked by Forbes as 85th on its billionaires list, Gennady Timchenko is worth $16.5 billion. He founded global company Gunvor, which trades in oil and energy markets. He also partly owns Russian gas and petrochemical businesses. The U.S. sanctioned Timchenko in 2014 for his close ties to Putin, alleging Putin may have access to Gunvor funds. The company denied the claim.
The sanctions required Timchenko to ground his private jet in Moscow after Gulfstream refused to service it. As one of his inner circle, Putin gifted the investor a Labrador puppy from his beloved dog, Connie.
Next: An oligarch who allegedly propositioned a Trump aide
10. Igor Sechin
- CEO of Russia’s state oil company
- Has worked with Putin since 1990s
- Sanctioned by U.S. in 2014 for showing “utter loyalty to Vladimir Putin”
Called one of the most powerful men in Russia, Igor Sechin is considered a de facto deputy of Putin. The two worked together in the early 1990s in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office. Sechin followed Putin to Moscow and became his presidential aide and then deputy prime minister.
Rumor has it Sechin offered former Trump aide Carter Page and his associates a 19% stake in his company in 2017 in exchange for the U.S. lifting sanctions on Russia. Page, a former Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser, was “noncommittal” in his response to Sechin’s request, according to a 2016 dossier.
Next: The man who married Putin’s daughter
11. Kirill Shamalov
- Russian businessman
- Married to Putin’s daughter Katerina
- Was one of Russia’s youngest billionaires
This Russian businessman married Putin’s younger daughter, Katerina, in 2013. With a little help from his powerful father-in-law, he quickly joined the ranks of the uber-rich and became multibillion-dollar owner of petrochemical giant Sibur.
In a turn of events, however, Shamalov was stripped of this role when he and Katerina separated in January 2018. He is now back to working as a senior executive at the company, according to Bloomberg. “The reversal of fortune offers a rare glimpse into the secretive ways Putin’s inner circle mixes family, friends, and finance,” the news outlet reported.
Next: Did he hide Putin’s wealth offshore?
12. Nikolai Shamalov
- Russian businessman, former dentist
- Founding member of Putin’s closed-gate community
- Reportedly tied to an offshore company that hides large sums of Putin’s wealth
The father of Kirill, Nikolai is a longtime friend of Putin’s. He helped found the Ozero cooperative in the 1990s, located near St. Petersburg. The society “brings together an influential group of individuals around President Putin,” according to a European Union law website.
According to the Panama Papers, his Bank Rossiya staff orchestrated an offshore shell company to hide large sums of Putin’s personal wealth. He was sanctioned by the European Union for his acquaintance with Putin and for benefiting from “his links with Russian decision-makers.”
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