A Novaya Gazeta and OCCRP investigation looks into the wealth surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When it comes to distribution of wealth, Russia is one of the world’s most unequal major countries. In the quarter-century since the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalism has arrived with a vengeance. Incomes rose substantially for most people -- but dodgy privatization schemes, weak rule of law, dependence on natural resource extraction, and political manipulation has allowed a small class of oligarchs to gain control of a huge proportion of the country’s wealth.
Once beholden to no one but themselves, the oligarchs have been tamed since Vladimir Putin’s arrival to the presidency. The longtime leader has struck a mutually beneficial bargain: Leave the politics to me, chip in when I need you to -- and you can keep, and even grow, your wealth.
But part of the story of Russia’s new wealth is missing: What about Putin himself?
In a recent interview, he replied to Oliver Stone’s questions about his assets with a chuckle and a sardonic smile: “I don’t have the wealth they attribute to me.”
Indeed, the Russian leader is notorious for keeping himself “officially” clean. But, sensing that there must be more to the story, OCCRP and its long-time partner Novaya Gazeta went digging to find out more -- and pieced together the assets of some of President Putin’s friends, family, and inner circle.
Some of these people lead or have stakes in large companies, many connected to Russia’s lucrative natural resources sector. The one commonality in their financial success is their connection to the to the president.
A smaller, more mysterious group -- the proxies -- have no obvious explanation for the hidden wealth reporters have uncovered. They claim not to be businessmen, are not known to the public, and in some cases have little idea of the riches that are registered under their names. Again, they have one common attribute: they are all family or boyhood friends of Putin.
These proxies’ wealth may be accounted for by the simplest explanation: It may really be Putin’s money. But in Russia, nothing is simple.
According to OCCRP’s calculations and their 2017 Forbes ratings, the total wealth of Putin’s inner circle -- a mix of family members, old friends, and friends who became family members -- stands at nearly $24 billion. Their most successful businesses are either linked to the largely state-controlled oil and gas sector or connected to other state corporations.
Three of the people on this list -- Mikhail Shelomov, Sergei Roldugin, and Pyotr Kolbin -- form their own pattern. Though they hold enormous assets, they stay out of the public eye, seem largely unaware of their own companies, and are at pains to explain the origins of their wealth. This, along with their personal connections to the president, raise questions about whether their assets really belong to them -- or if they are merely proxies.
Click on the names below to explore the members of this exclusive club and the connections between them.
Note: OCCRP did not include politicians and top state company managers among Putin’s friends. He also has other friends and relatives whose wealth is unknown.