Ukraine and Russia: Jewish Oligarchs Behind the Scenes
IN A MOVE calculated to blur their ties to Russia amid rising anti-Russian mania, three Jewish oligarchs based in Russia have sent a small (for them) $10 million gift to Ukraine via a “charitable organization” they founded — after being accused of “having supported the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Significantly, the donation is designated for their fellow Jews only, no actual Ukrainians allowed, being channeled through a specifically Jewish charity.
The donation is small for the three billionaires behind Genesis Philanthropy Group — Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan — who are together worth $21 billion, and who are all Jews, not Russians. The Jewish press says that it is “significant,” though, because “it signals daylight between them and Putin” in the wake of Russia’s military foray into Ukraine.
The gift was likely timed specifically to influence “Western” bureaucrats as they determine whether and how to penalize Putin’s allies by targeting their wealth. A day after the gift’s announcement, the European Union added Fridman, Aven, and other Russia-linked billionaires and companies, some of them Jewish, to its sanctions blacklist.
“With these additional sanctions, we are targeting all who are having a significant economic role in supporting Putin’s regime, and benefit financially from the system,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement. “These sanctions will expose the wealth of Putin’s elite. Those who enable the invasion of Ukraine will pay a price for their action.”
The billionaires who could face sanctions include a number of prominent super-rich Jews. Fridman and Aven, as well as Khan, appear among 210 names of prominent Russians on a list of possible targets for sanctions that was released by the US Treasury Department in 2018. Dubbed “Putin’s list,” the names represent top political figures and oligarchs who have amassed wealth and influence under Putin’s administration of the Kremlin. They are seen as potential targets for sanctions that would prevent them from participating in global commerce, in hopes of pressuring Putin to end the invasion of Ukraine.
According to the Jewish Daily Forward, at least 18 of the figures on “Putin’s list” are oligarchs with Jewish backgrounds, many of whom, as with the men behind the Genesis Philanthropy Group, have ramped up donations to Jewish charities.
Instead of helping those most in need in war-torn countries, their giving has been for Jewish benefit — the Forward states it has “shaped efforts to commemorate the Holocaust, inculcate Jewish identity, and fight anti-Semitism. Many have also given to Chabad, the Hasidic Jewish outreach movement, in Russia, and to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.”Possibly the best-known Russian Jewish oligarch is Roman Abramovich, who made billions in oil, steel and mining, by — along with a coterie of fellow Jews — buying up billion-dollar properties for almost nothing following the breakup of state-owned businesses after the fall of the Soviet Union. The owner of the elite Chelsea Football Club in England’s Premier League, he has reportedly donated more than $500 million to Jewish nonprofits in Israel and around the world.
Abramovich “stepped back from Chelsea” (in the Forward‘s words) this week in anticipation of sanctions. But so far, Western sanctions have been concentrated on Putin himself, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Russian financial institutions — in some cases putting real hardship on ordinary Russians, while Jewish oligarchs who fatten themselves on the backs of Russian people are left unscathed.
But war mania is war mania, and these billionaires are acutely aware that they may be caught up in sanctions, and are moving to soften the blow, if any. They hope that giving a few million — the equivalent of pocket change for us — to “Jewish non-profits” will give them some positive PR and allow their lobbyists to argue to “Western” governments that they should be left alone.
The $10 million donation announced by Genesis Philanthropy Group is going to support the Jewish Agency for Israel, Joint Distribution Committee, Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, and regional and local Jewish community organizations. During normal times Genesis also gives to “mainstay” Jewish causes like Hillel, Moishe House, Birthright, and Limmud, according to its Web site. The organization is perhaps best known for establishing the Genesis Prize, an annual $1 million award, dubbed “the Jewish Nobel,” given to prominent Jewish figures.
Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to comment on how the threat of sanctions is affecting the decisions being made by Genesis Philanthropy Group, the organization’s CEO Marina Yudborovsky released a statement: “Genesis Philanthropy Group has a long history of making independent grants and this follows that tradition. Our work is needed now more than ever, and we will continue to support Jewish communities around the world.”
Fridman is the controlling owner of Alfa-Bank, a major Russian financial institution that the United States and European Union last week placed under sanctions, limiting its ability to operate internationally. Fridman and another Jewish oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, made statements decrying the war recently.
Two other Jewish oligarchs with ties to Putin, Igor and Boris Rotenberg, became ensnared in sanctions announced by the United Kingdom last week. Meanwhile, Abramovich is reportedly “aiding” in the negotiations underway between Ukraine and Russia.
Last week, Yad Vashem, Israel’s “Holocaust authority,” announced a donation from Abramovich, said to be in the eight figures. It will pay for a new building and a “book inscribed with the 4.8 million names of Holocaust victims known to the museum.” An Israeli news channel revealed that weeks earlier, before the fighting erupted in Ukraine, Yad Vashem had lobbied the United States against sanctioning Abramovich in light of his “contribution to the Jewish people.” Abramovich has long denied that he is an ally of Putin, and his representatives told The Guardian newspaper last week that “it would be ludicrous to suggest that our client has any responsibility or influence over the behavior of the Russian state.”
A spokesman for the “Jewish Funders Network” says that the Jewish oligarchs, despite taking some steps to distance themselves from Russia, aren’t overly worried, saying “I don’t see a problem yet.”
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In a related story, Russia-based billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s custom-built 512-foot yacht Dilbar — which Usmanov purchased in 2016 for $600 million and was, at one point, the largest yacht in the world by tonnage — was just seized in Germany, two days after the European Union announced plans to sanction the oligarch. Usmanov, who claims to be a “Uzbek-born Russian Muslim” though he is married to a Jewess, hit the headlines a number of years ago when his Jewish wife, Irina Viner, introduced Putin to 18-year-old “rhythmic gymnast” Alina Kabaeva, an attractive half-Russian half-Tatar who some sources say has given birth to two unacknowledged children of the Russian president and has since been made head of Russia’s National Media Group.
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In Ukraine, it looks like the country’s Jewish president Volodymyr Zelensky, despite having just a state salary and having been a moderately successful actor and comedian, has somehow managed to graduate to the billionaire class himself, with more than $1.2 billion stashed in a Costa Rican bank. It seems certain oligarchs have helped him achieve this astonishing feat.
According to Eprimefeed:
Investigators found colossal assets belonging to the president of impoverished Ukraine. Zelensky tirelessly implores his Western partners for various kinds of material help. As it turns out, Zelensky himself can help ordinary Ukrainians and replenish the state budget — of he chooses to do so, which he has not. He could easily transfer $1.2 billion from one of his accounts alone into the public treasury. Zelensky’s account at the Costa Rican branch of Dresdner Bank Lateinamerika hold this sum in his name. And it was accumulated through monthly installments that reach the account of the President of Ukraine from three “philanthropists.”
These “philanthropists” are Ukrainian oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov (from First Union Bank and, despite his non-Jewish appearance, identified as a Jew by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency), Viktor Pinchuk (another Jew, with Deutsche Bank accounts) and, of course, Igor Kolomoisky (the president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, he prefers to send transfers from the Banque Nationale de Paris in Geneva).
The investigators managed to get acquainted not only with the timing and volume of cash receipts in the Zelensky account in Costa Rica, but also with some of the expenses of the Ukrainian president. So from his account in the United States, 34 million dollars was transferred to buy a villa in Miami. British jewelry house Graff received about $80,000, which seems modest in the context of his real estate spending.
The head of the Zelensky team, Andriy Yermak, evidently a non-Jew, also has a significant amount in the same bank; the balance in his account is now $56 million. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, whose ancestry has been questioned, also keeps considerable sums there.
The researchers now intend to try to shed light on the involvement of Western governments in these transactions.
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Source: Jewish Daily Forward, JTA, Eprimefeed, wire service reports, and National Vanguard correspondents