The intentions of oligarchs in post-Soviet Russia
Post-Soviet&# 160; oligarchs: in the USA&# 160;–&# 160; with its own charter?
For many incredibly wealthy people who made their billions in the post-Soviet space, the United States has become not only a safe place for assets, but also opened up new opportunities to get rid of a dubious reputation, hide from political risks and legal problems in their countries. However, according to experts of the Foundation «Free Russia», oligarchs from Putin’s entourage and their American partners – such as Deripaska, Malofeev, Vekselberg, Yakunin, Prigozhin and Blavatnik continue to serve the interests of the Kremlin, often resorting to manipulation of the press, and even to bribery and legal threats.
As he said speaking at the presentation of his report on the Youtube channel of the Foundation «Free Russia» investigative journalist Casey Michel (Casey Michel), author of the report released under the auspices of the Foundation «Kill the messenger! How oligarchs from post-Soviet countries undermine the First Amendment to the US Constitution», these people are trying to impose their own rules here, of which the first – “don’t you dare call us oligarchs!”
Coming from a closed society to reap the benefits of the freedom available in the United States, they demand that society live here too. “by concepts”, according to their rules, needs and habits. If journalists are interested in their dark backgrounds or motives, threats to investigators and journalists are often used. To launder their reputation, they buy up experts and think tanks and even bribe politicians. As Casey Michel writes, his investigation – This is the story of how powerful people use their unlimited resources to buy their own version of the American Dream – with a distinctly Soviet flavor.
As the President of the Foundation noted during the presentation of the report «Free Russia» Natalia Arno:
«We have published a very important investigation into how oligarchs from the former Soviet Union – in particular, Putin’s oligarchs trample on the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Many of us were forced to leave Russia for Western democracies. And we are shocked by what we see here – attempts to drown out our voices. But it is most striking when the oligarchs – the subject of our investigation, move to the West, and in addition to capital they bring with them harmful practices, including the persecution of Western journalists and the desire to silence them».
Victor Vekselberg – holding owner «Renova» and the president of the foundation «Skolkovo», unlike Leonard Blavatnik, he is not a US citizen, but he has extensive interests here – Vekselberg has investment and educational projects in the United States, and the oligarch’s children live here..
The Russian oligarch is widely known in political circles. Thanks to generous donations to Democrats and Republicans, he met with three American presidents as part of deepening US-Russian economic ties. Before the Russian billionaire was included in the US Treasury’s sanctions list in 2018, «Renova» was the investment fund Columbus Nova, which managed assets for $ 15 billion, although officially on the website «Renova» only $ 2 billion was mentioned. Five years ago, the Columbus Nova Foundation bought the high-tech company Sony Online Entertainment and renamed it Daybreak Games Company. According to Casey Michel, he was threatened with lawsuits by lawyers hired by Columbus Nova after he conducted a journalistic investigation into mechanisms for laundering dirty money through online games:
«My investigation showed that in 2015 the company «Renova» acquired an American company engaged in the creation and distribution of computer games. It so happens that they are developing massively multiplayer online games that contribute to a transnational money laundering scheme. Inside the game there are options for acquiring capital, as well as the function of transferring it from one player to another. Transactions leave no records or traces. Finances are transferred without the consideration and supervision of government agencies. Thus, using the options given in the game, criminals freely exchange virtual currency».
In Foundation investigation «Free Russia» also features a friend of Viktor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska Leonard Blavatnik – native of the Ukrainian SSR, and now an American-British businessman.
In 2015, he topped the Sunday Times list of the richest people in the UK. Today, Forbes estimates his fortune at nearly $ 19 billion..
The first rule of the club of Russian oligarchs, writes Casey Michel, is not to call them oligarchs. They are just businessmen selling Russian raw materials: gas, oil, diamonds and rare earth metals. And according to their lawyers and PR specialists, they have nothing to do with the president of Russia or other authoritarian rulers of the former USSR. After the sale of Russian raw materials on world markets, they tend to withdraw capital to the West and try to whitewash their business reputation through philanthropy and the purchase of well-known fashion brands..
The Blavatnik Family Foundation, which American experts call «a man of three worlds», donated over $ 500 million to Oxford, Harvard, Stanford and Yale University according to the statement of its representatives.
However, when journalists begin to find out the origin of these capitals and the motives of generosity, they often receive threats and lawsuits..
«One journalist told me that his material was censored – the editorial office removed 50 percent of the information from his article about Blavatnik’s financial connections and sources of capital. He had sources in the inner circle of the oligarch. All the facts stated were confirmed by several sources. Nevertheless, the group of lawyers of the publication where this journalist worked decided to cut out all paragraphs from the article, for fear of a lawsuit, which were threatened by Blavatnik’s lawyers.» – told by Casey Michel.
Russian service «Voices of America» applied for comment to two organizations belonging to Leonid Blavatnik – «Blavatnik family foundation» and «Access Industries», however, no reply has yet been received. To a similar request from an American magazine «Mother jones» last year press service «Access Industries» stated the following:
«Mr. Blavatnik has been a US citizen since 1984 and has donated to both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as independent candidates, who support free business development and a pro-Israeli political agenda for over a decade. Information about donation amounts is publicly available and meets all legal requirements. He has nothing to do with the Russian government or its leaders».
According to the authors of the journalistic investigation conducted under the auspices of the Foundation «Free Russia», it’s time for legislators in Congress to pass federal law prohibiting all kinds of «strategic litigation against public participation» / “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs) /), which are often a tool of censorship and also condemn criticism of individuals. The new law will protect freedom of speech and press and prevent further attempts by any actors to undermine the democratic foundations of the United States.