AS the invasion of Ukraine rages on, Russian oligarchs have been in the spotlight as they have been among the primary targets of the western response to the conflict. 

With some notable exceptions, they have largely shied away from media attention ... but following financial sanctions from western powers, they are now making headlines all over the world.

Here is a look into their background.

What is an oligarch? 

Following the fall of the USSR, the fate of state-controlled assets was suddenly brought into question as the Russian market became relatively more liberal. 

This led to new opportunities for a few well-placed individuals to rapidly accumulate wealth as Russia’s natural resources became high-value imports for capitalist markets. These would be the oligarchs.  

Using their vast wealth and control of Russian industry as leverage, they have attained considerable influence in national administrative politics and maintained their influence throughout Putin’s consolidation of power.

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In the wake of the Russian invasion, the oligarchs have been handed financial sanctions by the EU, US and UK, as the west sees them as a vulnerable point of influence on the Russian administration.

It is hoped that these measures will make the cost of the war far outweigh the benefits of any geopolitcial gains for the magnates and so incentivise them to use their influence to de-escalate the conflict. 

Here’s a background on a few of the key figures and how they’ve reacted to the Russian invasion. 

Mikhail Fridman  

FRIDMAN is a co-founder of Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa, while also being involved in the running of LetterOne, an investment firm with interests in telecoms and oil. He has been described by the EU as "a top Russian financier and enabler of Putin's inner circle". 

The EU has named Fridman in a list of individuals who will have their assets frozen and no longer be allowed to travel in the European bloc. 

Born in Ukraine, Fridman has said in a BBC interview that the war should “be stopped as soon as is humanly possible” but would not directly criticise Putin’s decision as he didn’t want to endanger his colleagues and partners.  

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Fridman also stressed his view that economic sanctions would only serve to put a great personal cost on himself and other magnates without seriously compromising Putin's invasion.

He also emphasises that he had “no impact on political decisions, at all”. 

Alisher Usmanov 

USMANOV, who is also on the EU's sanctions list, used to have a major shareholding in Arsenal and is now linked to Everton.

He is said to be “one of Putin’s favourite oligarchs”, according to the EU. 

The billionaire, originally hailing from Uzbekistan, “reportedly fronted for President Putin and solved his business problems”.  

The EU sanctions dossier also said: “According to FinCEN files [leaked financial documents] he paid $6 million to Vladimir Putin’s adviser Valentin Yumashev.” 

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Furthermore, leading Kremlin figures are alleged to have “benefited from the personal use of luxurious residences controlled by Mr Usmanov”. 

Usmanov has been sanctioned by the EU and the US but has so far evaded any measures from the UK Government.  

According to The Times, Usmanov (below) said that “the reasons employed to justify the sanctions are a set of false and defamatory allegations damaging my honour, dignity and business reputation”.


The National:

Roman Abramovich 

Abramovich is a highly controversial figure in the UK, known mainly for being the owner of Chelsea FC.

Early last year, detained Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny named Abramovich in a list of Russian oligarch figures who should be targeted with financial sanctions.  

He described Abramovich and the others on the list as “key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy, with significant ties and assets in the West”. 

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Labour MP Chris Bryant also recently used parliamentary privilege to detail an alleged leaked document from the Home Office which reportedly said Abramovich had been a person of interest to the Home Office since 2019 due to “his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices". 

Abramovich has failed to directly criticise the invasion amid various reports saying he is now withdrawing from public life in the UK and looking to sell Chelsea as pressure mounts on the UK Government to sanction him.