Russia's richest lose $43b in wealth as Ukraine crisis escalates

Gennady Timchenko (left) heads the list of Russian billionaires who have seen their fortunes drop. Boris Rotenberg is also on Britain's sanctions list. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The fortunes of Russia's super-rich have tumbled US$32 billion (S$43 billion) this year, with the escalating conflict in Ukraine poised to make that wealth destruction much larger.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday (Feb 22) unleashed sanctions targeting Russia's sale of sovereign debt abroad and the country's elites, and said he's sending an unspecified number of additional US troops to the Baltics in a defensive move to defend Nato countries.

Gennady Timchenko heads the list of Russian billionaires who have seen their fortunes drop, with almost a third of his wealth disappearing since Jan 1, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a listing of the world's 500 richest people.

Timchenko, 69, the son of a Soviet military officer who met and befriended Russian President Vladimir Putin during the early 1990s, now has a fortune of about US$16 billion, with the bulk of his wealth derived from a stake in Russia gas producer Novatek, according to Bloomberg's wealth index.

Fellow Novatek shareholder Leonid Mikhelson's fortune has tumbled US$6.2 billion this year, while Lukoil Chairman Vagit Alekperov's net worth has declined about US$3.5 billion in the same period as the energy company's stock has slid almost 17 per cent.

The country's 23 billionaires currently have a net worth of US$343 billion, according to the wealth list, down from US$375 billion at year-end.

Markets slumped further this week after Putin recognised two separatist republics in Ukraine, leading to Germany halting an energy project with Russia and Britain imposing sanctions on five of the country's banks and three of its wealthy individuals, including Timchenko.

Also on Britain's sanctions list are Boris Rotenberg, 65, and his nephew, Igor, 48, whose families made their fortune through gas-pipeline construction firm Stroygazmontazh.

Igor's father, Arkady, one of Putin's former judo sparring partners, sold the pipeline firm in 2019 for about US$1.3 billion. He purchased a minority stake from his younger brother Boris five years earlier when both siblings and Timchenko were hit with US sanctions over Russia's occupation of Crimea.

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