Hit hard by sanctions, Russian oligarchs have been robbed of their wealth

Yacht, huge real estate, plane or even works of art: Western sanctions imposed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine deprive wealthy Russians of their “luxury toys”. With an effectiveness that is difficult to assess.

• Also read: Russian oligarch’s yacht seized in Fiji at US request

• Also read: [EN DIRECT] 76th day of the war in Ukraine: here are the latest developments

• Also read: $50 million more for Ukraine, says Trudeau

The high-profile asset freeze hits Russian oligarchs head-on, many of whom made their fortunes on the rubble of the Soviet Union and were hunted down in two decades of Vladimir Putin’s rule.

In the UK, more than 100 businessmen and their families have been sanctioned since the invasion of Ukraine began. The United States has targeted 140, the European Union more than 30.

According to UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, it’s about starting where it hurts by “depriving the oligarchs, who are accused of using their wealth to serve power while enjoying a Western way of life, of their luxury toys”.

In London, sometimes nicknamed “Londongrad” because it was home to many Russians for years, “the welcome mat is now being removed,” summarizes The Economist weekly.

Even Roman Abramovich was targeted, leading to the sale of London football club Chelsea, which he bought in 2003.

But targeting such a large number of people in a highly globalized economy remains “entirely unexplored territory,” notes researcher Alex Nice of the Institute for Government think tank. As a result, a “deep chasm between the West and Russia” will continue to develop after the war.

Independent Russian political scientist Konstantin Kalachev believes Vladimir Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine could last “for years”. If the decision to lift sanctions was based on the situation in Ukraine, the West “will never lift them,” he told AFP.

Listen to Loïc Tassé’s column on QUB Radio at the microphone of Benoît Dutrizac:

“Avalanche of Sanctions”

Forbes magazine already removed 34 Russians from its list of billionaires last month, citing the impact of the sanctions.

“The war is an absolute disaster for them,” said Elisabeth Schimpfoessl, a sociologist at Astom University in Birmingham and author of a book called Rich Russians.

Petr Aven, known for his large collection of Russian artworks, told the Financial Times he wasn’t sure “he had the right to let someone do the housework or let them drive”. He now fears deportation from Britain.

Many oligarchs are of several nationalities and are in no hurry to return to Russia.

Western countries provide a “base to go to if they fear prosecution in Russia,” says Ms. Schimpfoessl.

The scope of sanctioned ownership is immense. According to the British government, Roman Abramovich alone weighs more than 9 billion pounds (10.5 billion euros).

EU member countries have reported that almost $30 billion in Russian assets have been frozen, including $7 billion in yachts, helicopters, real estate and works of art.

See “The Cry of the Rich”

The United States has sanctioned or blocked more than $1 billion worth of boats and planes owned by Kremlin relatives.

Last week, at Washington’s request, police in Fiji seized a 106-meter yacht worth more than $300 million linked to Suleiman Kerimov, a billionaire lawmaker who is the target of European and American sanctions.

These measures not only make you unhappy. “Ordinary Russians like to watch + also like to cry + the rich,” Mr. Kalachev said, referring to a Mexican series that was popular in Russia in the early 1990s.

And according to the expert, “the attempt to force a change in foreign policy with economic sanctions has not proven its worth”, even if the sanctions “weaken Russia’s fighting power”.

While Mr. Abramovich has taken part in talks to end the conflict, other oligarchs have openly criticized the war.

For example, on Instagram, Oleg Tinkov, a London-sanctioned banker where he recently treated leukemia, criticized “this crazy war.”

But experts say the oligarchs are unlikely to band together against Putin. “It would not be in your interest to publicly speak out against Putin,” emphasizes Ms. Schimpfoessl.

Leave a Comment