Western powers crack down on ‘golden passports’ to take down wealthy Russians

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, Western leaders are enacting more severe economic measures that target the wealth and status of Russia’s elite.

One of those sanction targets are “golden passports,” which enable well-to-do people to become citizens of other countries. 

“We commit to acting against the people and entities who facilitate the war in Ukraine and the harmful activities of the Russian government,” the EU wrote in a joint statement with other Western powers on Saturday. “Specifically, we commit to taking measures to limit the sale of citizenship—so-called golden passports—that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems.” 

So what are golden passports?

Golden passports, also known as “second passports,” are the byproduct of a citizen-by-investment program in which people financially contribute to specific projects within a country in exchange for citizenship.

If someone applies for a golden passport, they and their immediate family can receive residence permits, which can be renewed in perpetuity as long as the investment in that country continues. Having a second passport has many benefits, like the ability to travel without the visas required by your original passport, or to flee your home country, according to the International Monetary Fund

The U.S. has recently sanctioned Yuriy Alekseyevich Soloviev, a high-ranking VTB Bank executive deemed a member of the “financial sector elite” according to the U.S. Treasury. His wife, Galina Olegovna Ulyutina, was previously “implicated in a golden passport scheme,” according to the U.S. Treasury

Targeting the wealthy

Going after specific perks of Russia’s affluent elite has been a major feature of sanctions against the country since Russia invaded Ukraine last week. 

The U.S. and U.K. have previously sanctioned specific individuals with ties to the Kremlin, as well as their family members. President Biden vowed in his speech on Feb. 24 that the U.S. would make sure people who personally gained from the Kremlin’s policies “share in the pain.” 

On Saturday, the United States, Canada, and key European countries announced the creation of a transatlantic task force to start “identifying and freezing [the] assets” of sanctioned Russian officials and companies. Those assets include yachts, jets, cars, and luxury apartments, Bloomberg reported.  

But despite the creation of the task force, the status symbols of Russia’s elite, such as real estate holdings, jets, and yachts, so far seem largely unscathed. 

A Bombardier Global 6000 jet belonging to Russian billionaire Alexey Mordashov flew from the Seychelles area to Moscow last week. The assets of Russian millionaires and billionaires could take months or longer to seize because of complicated ownership structures, according to Bloomberg.  

As tensions escalate, there are some signs that the Russian elite are beginning to feel anxiety around their belongings. Vladimir Soloviev, a sanctioned Russian journalist and TV host, flew into a televised rage over losing access to two multimillion-dollar Italian villas, according to Yahoo Finance.

Roman Abramovich, chairman of Chelsea Football Club, announced on Saturday that he was ceding control of the Premier League soccer club and reigning Champions League champion to the trustees of its charitable foundation

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Biden AdministrationUkraine InvasionInflationEnergyCybersecurity