Russian oligarchs of Jewish descent can take shelter together

Russian oligarchs of Jewish descent can take shelter together

Russian oligarchs of Jewish descent can take refuge with their money under Israeli citizenship, which many have fixed for such situations. Therefore, Israel will be attacked by the rich in Russia, amid sanctions imposed by the West.

Punitive measures against Russia taken by the United States and the European Union hit not only the Russian oligarchs, but also any business with exposure to Russia. Israel is not obliged to heed any Western recommendations, nor has it announced any restrictions on Russian affairs. This is one of the reasons why Russian private jets continue to land at Ben-Gurion Airport. One, belonging to Roman Abramovich, landed on February 25, a day after Russia invaded Ukraine.

However, Israeli banks are expected to adopt the new European and US sanctions, as has been the case in previous years with other sets of sanctions. “I am collaborating with five businessmen active in Russia, the panic has already set in to a certain degree, especially since no one knows what is coming. At the same time, it should be noted that in the opposite case – if the Russian authorities had become hostile to businessmen, the fear would have been much greater “, comments the lawyer Ram A. Gamliel, quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Some were prepared even before hostilities began on the ground. Now, amidst the decoupling of SWIFT, it has become almost impossible to invest or withdraw money from Russia. “Those who were smart enough managed to transfer their funds in the run-up to the conflict,” Gamliel said.

The economy of the oligarchs

The oligarchs are the kind of businessmen who amassed colossal fortunes after the fall of the Soviet Union, during the privatization of the country’s natural resources. “I do not have proof of the source of everyone’s wealth, but there is no clean money coming from Russia. They have benefited from the corruption at the national level, “said Roman Bronfman, a former lawyer for Meretz (left-wing Israeli party no.) And a native of Ukraine. “The source of this money is a mass theft committed against all citizens. The average pension in Russia today is $ 200, and the gap between rich and poor Russians is the largest in the world, “added Bronfman, quoted by Haaretz.

Initially, the oligarchs aligned themselves with Vladimir Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who had high hopes that they would help him turn Russia into a liberal democracy. With the rise to power (1999), Putin began using this system to persecute certain oligarchs. The best known example is the three oligarchs from the Yukos conglomerate: Leonid Nevzlin (also owns 25% of Haaretz), Vladimir Dubov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The first two fled to Israel, while Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion.

Wealth without borders

There are several oligarchs who managed to escape from Russia. But not everyone has given up on Putin. Some have even decided to stay in touch with the Kremlin regime, which has intensified corruption in Russia and turned it into an economy for its acolytes. Oligarch Mikhail Fridman, for example, considered an independent businessman in the 1990s, unrelated to Putin’s regime, approached the circle of oligarchs loyal to the Russian president, as did Petr Aven, his partner in the Alfa financial group. One week ago, they were both put on the list of sanctions for links to the Kremlin regime (Fridman also has Israeli citizenship).

Alfa Group has a business partnership with two other well-known oligarchs in Israel – Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik (the latter also holds American and British nationalities). Vekselberg invested in Fifth Dimension, a company run by Israeli Defense Minister Beni Gantz, before he entered politics. Blavatnik owns the Israeli TV channel Channel 13 and owned the conglomerate Clal Industries.

Alfa Group also partnered with AAR, a group of companies also owned by the Vekselberg-Blavatnik tandem. And AAR has partnered with TNK-BP, one of the world’s largest oil companies. In 2013, Rosneft, the Russian state giant, acquired TNK-BP for $ 55 billion (BP was left with a 19% minority stake). Putin’s personally approved transaction further enriched the two – Vekselberg and Blavatnik. However, the circle is now closing in the context of the war in Ukraine: BP has announced that it is selling a 20% stake in Rosneft, in response to international sanctions imposed on Russia.

Sanctions also on the individual

The current sanctions, unprecedented in harshness, raise the question of whether personal sanctions against oligarchs, not just their businesses, are legitimate. Ultimately, personal sanctions against business people are a relatively new mechanism. Following the annexation of Crimea, plus evidence of Russia’s involvement in the US elections, Washington has decided to impose sanctions on oligarchs close to Putin (including Viktor Vekselberg and metal tycoon Oleg Deripaska).

The legal framework for international sanctions has been set in the context of the war on terror and the fight against Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs. “Americans and Europeans are now taking this initial framework forward,” said lawyer Yehuda Shefer, a former director of the Israeli Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Finance Authority. “I think it’s a legitimate move so far, given that it’s about authoritarian regimes backed by very rich individuals who can’t justify the source of the huge wealth.”

Experts say personal sanctions on oligarchs have two complementary objectives. The first is to put pressure on them in the hope that they, in turn, will put the same pressure on Putin. Second, he puts economic pressure on Putin himself, who on paper is not a rich person at all, his fortune being in the hands of those close to him. Personal sanctions against oligarchs will be much more effective than those against the Russian economy, Shefer said. “There are already some who are looking for a compromise or who are talking about reconciliation.”

Activist Alex Tenzer believes that “in Russia, the anger of the oligarchs is much more dangerous for Putin than dissidents like Aleksei Navalny. People always know how wars start, not how they end. I think now, for the first time in the last 22 years, there is a chance for change in Russia. “

Others believe it is too early to know the extent and significance of any oligarchic revolt against Putin. After the beheading of the Yukos group, shortly after Putin took power, the oligarchs never again criticized him in public.

Mihail Fridman, who owns the banking conglomerate Alfa Group, published a letter in the Financial Times calling for an end to the war. Abramovich also came out and said he could try to act as a mediator, and Deripaska expressed concern about Russia’s economic situation. But no one directly criticized Putin. “It simply came to our notice then. We have dozens of partners and I have no right to endanger them, “Fridman apologized at a recent press conference in London.

Compromising ties

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s recommendations to all government colleagues – to refuse any request from any oligarch to help him escape sanctions – have not been dealt with very carefully.

Explication? At the same table where government meetings are taking place are several ministers with ties to Russian oligarchs. Beni Gantz is the former president of Fifth Dimension, a startup that develops artificial intelligence systems for military use, with Vekselberg among its investors. Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman is known for his ties to oligarch Michael Cherney, who owns several properties in Israel. Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin is even associated with several oligarchs – Temur Ben Yehud, Yuri Zablonski and Lev Kenago – who supported him when he ran for mayor of Jerusalem in 2018. And the list goes on. “Perhaps these times will push some to self-analyze certain connections,” says Shefer.

Meanwhile, in the spotlight are the oligarchs who come to Israel to take refuge in Israeli citizenship. They will also benefit from the provisions of the Milchan Act, which states that an Israeli citizen returning to the country does not have to inform the source of income for a period of ten years.

The first wave of this exodus to Israel began right after the annexation of Crimea and the first US sanctions. However, there are many who do not believe that sanctions against individuals will be imposed on individuals.


These are the harshest sanctions ever adopted by the West, but Russia’s rich still have places to take refuge with their wealth.

EMIRATE. A favorite place of the Russian oligarchs in the context of the current war is Dubai. In early March, the yacht of aluminum oligarch Andrei Skoci landed in the Gulf, and a plane of billionaire Arkadi Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Putin, landed in Dubai on March 4. MALDIVE. At least five super-yachts arrived in the Maldives (a state that has no extradition treaty with the US) a week ago, according to Reuters.

This article appeared in issue 136 of . magazine.

PHOTO: Getty