Meet the Russian billionaires and elites getting hit with sanctions in escalating Ukraine conflict

February 23, 2022, 7:01 PM UTC

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to order troops into Eastern Ukraine is “the beginning of a Russian invasion,” President Joe Biden said this week.  

In response, Biden announced that the U.S. will send 800 U.S. troops already deployed in Europe, as well as fighter jets, and helicopters, to NATO members in the Baltic states close to the conflict. 

But he also answered by unleashing financial sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs, promising to do even more if Putin proceeds further in Ukraine. Biden has targeted five Russian elites and their family members, along with two large Russian banks—Vnesheconombank and Promsvyazbank and their subsidiaries—which hold more than $80 billion in assets, according to a White House statement. The elite targeted by Biden who are suspected to be “participating in the Russian regime’s kleptocracy” are barred from accessing any property or engaging in any transactions in the U.S., according to the U.S. Treasury Department.  

In imposing economic penalties on Russia, the president joined the 27 European Union members who unanimously agreed on Monday on a package of new sanctions against Russian officials, oligarchs, and billionaires over their actions in Ukraine. And the elite targeted by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will have their assets frozen and will be barred from entering the country or doing any business in the U.K. according to a Tuesday announcement from Johnson in the House of Commons.

Here’s who they are:

U.S. sanctions

Aleksandr Bortnikov

Aleksandr Bortnikov is the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the country’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, and a member of Putin’s inner circle. Bortnikov has been Russia’s intelligence director since 2008, and used to work in the KGB.

This is not Bortnikov’s first encounter with western sanctions. In October 2020, Bortnikov’s assets and those of five other senior Russian statesmen were frozen in response to the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently imprisoned. 

Denis Bortnikov 

Bortnikov’s son, Denis, is also being targeted by sanctions. Bortnikov younger serves as the deputy president of the state-owned VTB Bank, Russia’s second largest bank in terms of assets. He also acts as chairman for the bank’s management board.

Biden’s decision to impose sanctions on family members of Putin’s closest advisors is meant to unsettle the Russian families closely affiliated with the leader, and who have traditionally felt insulated and safe because of their consolidated wealth, according to the president’s statements on Tuesday. “They share in the corrupt gains of the Kremlin policies and should share in the pain as well,” Biden said.

Sergei Kiriyenko 

Sergei Kiriyenko is the first deputy chief of staff of the presidential office, and is considered to be one of Putin’s closest counselors. Kiriyenko is also believed to have had a heavy hand in shaping Russia’s domestic policy, according to the U.S. Treasury.

Kiriyenko briefly served as prime minister of Russia in 1998 under president Boris Yeltsin, the youngest politician ever to hold that role. Before directly serving in Putin’s office, Kiriyenko spent 11 years as director of Rosatom, a state-owned corporation that specializes in developing nuclear energy projects and non-energy nuclear technologies.

In 2020, Carnegie Moscow Center, a regional think tank focusing on Russian domestic and foreign policy, named Kiriyenko as a political technocrat instrumental in stabilizing and implementing the policies of Putin’s administration.

Vladimir Kiriyenko

Kiriyenko’s son, Vladimir, is the CEO of VK Group, Russia’s largest social media and internet company. VK Group manages Vkontakte, the country’s most popular social media platform, as well as several instant messaging and email apps.

Kirienko is also involved with state-owned Rostelecom, Russia’s largest digital service and telecommunications provider. He has served as senior vice president for business development and management since 2016, and as first vice president since 2017.

As with Denis Bortnikov, the sanctions being imposed on Kiriyenko will cut off his family’s access to international markets through the company he owns.

“We are extending the reach of U.S. sanctions to prevent the elites close to Putin from using their kids to hide assets, evade costs, and squander the resources of the Russian people,” a senior Biden administration official told CNN on Wednesday. “This is a new approach.”

Petr Fradkov

Petr Fradkov is the Chairman and CEO of Promsvyazbank Public Joint Stock Company (PSB) and the son of the former prime minister of Russia and former director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Mikhail Fradkov. He has held meetings with Putin and forecasted PSB’s strategy for supporting the Russian defense industry, according to the U.S. Treasury Department

Fradkov was deemed in violation of Executive Order 14024 for “operating or having operated in the defense and related materiel and financial services sectors of the Russian Federation economy,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department

U.K. sanctions

Boris Rotenberg

Boris Rotenberg, his nephew Igor, and Gennady Timchenko are the three Russian elites targeted by U.K. sanctions. All three billionaires will have their U.K. assets frozen and be barred from entering the U.K. or doing business with any U.K. individuals and entities.  

This is not Rotenberg’s first time being hit with sanctions. He was one of the 16 Russian officials hit with U.S. sanctions and frozen assets after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and was highlighted as a member of Putin’s inner circle, according to the U.S. Treasury Department

Boris Rotenberg is the co-owner of SGM group, a large corporate construction company, with his brother, Arkady, and has a $1.2 billion net worth, according to Forbes. The Rotenberg brothers have amassed significant wealth during Putin’s rule in Russia and received around $7 billion in contracts for the Sochi Olympic Games, according to the U.S. Treasury Department

Igor Rotenberg

Igor Rotenberg is the son of billionaire Arkady Rotenberg—the co-owner of SGM group, a large corporate construction company in Russia, and a close associate to Putin. His father began practicing judo with Putin while they were both adolescents, according to Bloomberg. The 48-year-old controls Gazprom Bureniye, a drilling company, and is worth $1.1 billion, according to Forbes. Igor Rotenberg is the chairman of the board of directors of National Telematic Systems, according to Yahoo Finance.

Gennady Timchenko

Britain imposed sanctions on billionaire Gennady Timchenko on Tuesday following the deployment of Russian military forces in Ukraine. 

The British government claims that Timchenko was a major shareholder in Bank Rossiya, which supported the destabilization of Ukraine after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Gennady Timchenko will be barred from entering the U.K. and all British individuals and entities will be banned from dealing with him. Timchenko controls Volga Group, one of the largest investment firms in Russia which focuses on energy, transportation and construction. He is seen as a close ally to Putin and a regular member of Putin’s “night-time ice hockey league,” a highly publicized amateur league that contains many Russian leaders.   

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