Who are the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the West and what effect can the sanctions have?

As Putin attacks Ukraine with missiles and artillery, the West has, for now, responded with economic sanctions against Russia and a select group of Russian billionaires.

The financial blows are aimed at businessmen who, according to the authorities of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, belong to the Putin’s inner circle.

They are tycoons with investments in real estate, banks, sports teams and properties in cities like London or New York.

The objective of the sanctions is to put pressure on this elite, as a way to make Putin stop the offensive on Ukraine.

“They are in a panic”sociologist Elisabeth Schimpfössl, professor at Aston University, in the United Kingdom, and author of the book Rich Russians: from oligarchs to bourgeoisie, tells BBC Mundo.

Schimpfössl refers to the fact that these tycoons, accustomed to luxury, are now in trouble because of the sanctions to maintain their fortunes and enjoy their lifestyle.

Are economic sanctions are the broadest that have prevailed in the modern age, according to Daniel Sandford, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent.

But who are the oligarchs, what is their relationship with Putin And how decisive can they be in de-escalating Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine?

Vladimir Putin

Who are the oligarchs

In the Russian context the term oligarch refers to the group of extremely wealthy businessmen who began to amass their fortune after the fall of the soviet unionin 1991.

In addition, they have in common that they have become millionaires thanks to their proximity and the business they have done with the State.

After the fall of communism, Russia moved to a capitalist system with a great wave of privatizations, especially in sectors such as industry, energy and finance.

people with good connections with the government they could take large chunks of Russian industry and thus speed their way to fortune.

In this way, several oligarchs became owners of the media, oil fields and metal factories, among others.

With Putin coming to power, the oligarchs who stuck to his political line were more successful.

In an interview with The Financial Times in 2019, however, Putin said “We no longer have oligarchs.”

Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin

The oligarchs began to emerge after the fall of the Soviet Union.

What is Putin’s relationship with the oligarchs?

According to Schimpfössl, Putin has power over the oligarchs. “They depend on him to maintain and multiply your fortunessays the expert.

“They have always had to cultivate harmonious relations with Putin.”

But at the same time, Putin also depends on this select group.

“He needs them to maintain a balance of power,” says Schimpfössl.

“Putin has been in power for so long because he has been able to maintain a balance between various interests of the power groups in Russia, one of them being the oligarchs, others being the military and the security services.”

“If Putin loses the loyalty of the oligarchs that balance is lost”.

Brooke Harrington, a sociology professor at Dartmouth University, adds another role for the oligarchs in Putin’s Russia.

“They provide a public support invaluable to the regime, lead key companies and institutions,” Harrington writes in an article in The Atlantic.

In any case, Schimpfössl maintains that the oligarchs’ influence over Putin is not that great.

“This is because they have always acted as individuals,” he says.

“Of course in certain situations they can lobby together for their interests, if necessary, but their emporiums also They compete with each other.”

Alisher Usmanov

Alisher Usmanov


The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union have each published different lists of sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

Penalties include freezing of assets and travel bans, as well as a ban on their private companies continuing to accumulate capital.

Each list is different, but some names are repeated.

One of them is Alisher Usmanovwhose fortune is estimated at US$17.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Usmanov has been sanctioned by the US, UK and the European Union.

It is believed to be one of the favorite oligarchs of Putin, according to Sandford.

Usmanov runs USM Holdings, a huge conglomerate involving mining and telecommunicationsincluding MegaFon, the second largest mobile network in Russia.

He has mansions in London, a mega yacht and according to the British authorities he has had “significant interests” in football clubs. Arsenal and Everton.

In addition to supporting the annexation of Crimea, Usmanov is accused of exerting pressure on the freedom of expression in Russia.

Igor Sechin with Vladimir Putin in 2017

Igor Sechin with Vladimir Putin in 2017

Another name that is repeated is that of Igor Sechin, sanctioned by the US and the EU.

He is believed to be one of the closest advisors and personal friend of Putin, according to Sandford.

In Russia he is known by the nickname of Darth Vaderbecause he is reputed to have achieved his success by ruthlessly displacing his opponents.

He has worked for the Putin government and now runs the giant state oil company Rosneft.

It is not known how much his fortune amounts to.

Sandford and Schimpfössl agree that two other oligarchs Pyotr Aven and M.iKhail Fridmanbelong to the group closest to Putin.

Both are founders of Alfa-Bank, the largest private bank in Russia.

Aven has an estimated fortune of US$4.8 billion, while Fridman’s may reach US$12.6 billion.

In a BBC article, Sandford highlights other sanctioned oligarchs.

Mikhail Fridmann

Mikhail Fridmann

Among them are Oleg Deripaska, a businessman in the energy sector, with an estimated fortune of US$3 billion; and Alexey Miller, director of the state gas company Gazprom, whose fortune is unknown.

What impact will sanctions have?

After the sanctions were announced, several of the so-called oligarchs They denied the accusations.

Usmanov said that the EU’s accusations are “fabricated and baseless” and that offend their “honour, dignity and business reputation”.

Aven and Fridman released a joint statement saying they are “deeply shocked by the statements deliberately false contained in the EU regulation.

In addition, both stepped down from the board of directors of Alfa-Bank.

At a press conference in London last week, Fridman said the war was a tragedy for both sides.

However, he stopped short of directly criticizing Putin, saying the personal comments could be a risk not only for himself but also for his staff and colleagues.

Oleg Deripaska with Vladimir Putin in 2017

Oleg Deripaska with Vladimir Putin in 2017.

The banker argued that the sanctions were having a strong impact on the Russian economy and that he had no influence over Putin’s decisions.

Deripaska, for his part, did leave a clearer message on his Twitter account: “Negotiations need to start as soon as possible,” he wrote.

“They are angry and anxious”Harrington writes.

“His discomfort has not yet persuaded Putin to stop his aggression in Ukraine, but it is a reminder that the US, UK and EU can and must face a kleptocratic system that allowed the president of Russia to accumulate so much power.”

Some experts believe that sanctions against oligarchs may have a limited effect in persuading Putin.

“He (Putin) can jail them, or kill them, and the notion that the oligarchs can influence Putin is nonsense,” Daniel Fried, a former US government official who helped design sanctions against Putin, told NPR. Moscow during Putin’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC World. Download the new version of our app and activate it so you don’t miss out on our best content.