10 things to know about Roman Abramovich, the tightrope walker Russian oligarch

1. Mediator

The presence of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, 55, alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Russia-Ukraine peace talks on March 29 in Istanbul surprised everyone. Businessman, jet-setter, football fan, the now mediator nevertheless endorsed his discreet mission at the beginning of March, when the diplomatic adviser to the Turkish president, Ibrahim Kalin, arranged for him a meeting in a large hotel in Istanbul with the Ukrainian deputy of Tatar origin Rustem Umerov. The two men would then have gone to kyiv for an interview with President Volodymyr Zelensky, before the billionaire left for Moscow with a message for Vladimir Putin. Since then, he would not have stopped shuttles between the three countries. Although dubbed by both parties, the presence at the talks of the oligarch, who is not officially part of any delegation, continues to intrigue. Can he influence the discussions? And what is he looking for in this mediation?

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2. Poisonous

“Are we dying? » Roman Abramovich was apparently very scared, at the beginning of March, when he realized that he had just been the victim, along with two Ukrainian negotiators, of an attempted poisoning during talks. Reddened and watery eyes, peeling hands and face… The symptoms leave little doubt to specialists who believe, however, that the attack was not intended to kill but only to serve as a warning. The mystery remains whole, on the other hand, concerning the sponsors. While the two Russian and Ukrainian presidents have given their agreement to the billionaire to serve as an intermediary, suspicion weighs on the clan of hardliners within Russian power, thus revealing dissension in the entourage of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich was in any case back at the negotiating table on March 29. With instructions: neither drink, nor eat, nor even touch anything.

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3. Penalties

Fifteenth world fortune in 2008 with 23.5 billion dollars according to the ranking of the magazine “Forbes”, Roman Abramovich had tumbled to 142nd place in 2014 after the sanctions decreed against Russia following the annexation of Crimea. With the war started in Ukraine by Moscow on February 24, his name has just been added to the list of Russian personalities sanctioned by the European Union and the United Kingdom. Freezing of his assets, prohibition of transactions with British individuals and companies… A new blow to the wallet of the businessman who is trying by all means to get out of this mess. Thanks to his role as mediator between kyiv and Moscow, Abramovich has nevertheless been able to escape American sanctions so far. A personal request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to his counterpart Joe Biden.

4. Power

What are the links between Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin? The two men were close in the early 2000s when the Russian president made the oligarch governor of the Chukotka region in Russia’s Far East. In 2012, a judge of the British High Court concluded that “Mr. Abramovich has privileged access to President Putin”. In fact, the one who had made his fortune under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) saw, unlike others, his business prosper under the successive mandates of the new master of the Kremlin. Yet Abramovich denies any direct link with Vladimir Putin. He would belong to a “second circle”, enjoying protection for his business without direct political involvement. At least that’s how he prefers to be seen, as the links with the Kremlin represent a handicap internationally. But, according to the opposition, like all oligarchs, he would donate part of his earnings to Putin, thus contributing to the Russian president’s continued power.

Vladimir Putin and Roman Abramovich, May 27, 2005, during an interview in Moscow. (VLADIMIR RODIONOV/ITAR-TASS/AFP)

5. Orphan

The billionaire is a “self-made-man” with post-Soviet sauce. The young Roman, who lost blow after blow his parents when he was 1 and 3 years old, was raised by an uncle in a very popular environment, within the remote Republic of the Komi, located in the Russian Far North crossed by the Arctic Circle. Starting from nothing, he now lives in luxury.

6. Sequestration

According to revelations from the BBC, Roman Abramovich’s fortune is due to financial embezzlement (false calls for tenders, corruption, etc.) and is even tainted by advanced criminality since his acquisition in 2002 of the oil company Slavneft. According to the BBC investigation, he was alone in the running for the takeover following the withdrawal of a Chinese competitor, who would have given up after the kidnapping of a member of the company’s delegation on his arrival in Moscow .

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7. “Sports wash”

Roman Abramovich not only has business acumen, but also that of “personal branding”, the art of knowing how to sell oneself, that he has been able to develop during his long career. With the purchase of the Chelsea football club in 2003, he was even a precursor of “sport washing”, the art of using sport for public relations purposes. Thanks to the billions invested in the British club, this authentic football fan has been able to restore his image by conquering the hearts of the club’s supporters with five titles of champion of England, thus forging an international reputation.

8. Superyacht

Roman Abramovich was able to protect one of the most famous symbols of his fortune from sanctions. His two yachts, “the Eclipse” – 162.5 meters long, nine decks, two helipads and a 16-meter swimming pool convertible into a dance floor – and “the Solaris” – 140 meters, left the yards last year −, are both safe in Marmaris and Bodrum, Turkey having chosen not to impose sanctions on Russia.

“The Solaris” off Montenegro, March 12, 2022. (SAVO PRELEVIC / AFP)

9. Israeli-… Portuguese!

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In addition to his Russian nationality, the billionaire became Israeli in 2018 thanks to the law of return which allows any Jewish person to immigrate to Israel. A choice motivated by the non-renewal of his British visa. Thanks to his new nationality, Abramovich regained the right to visa-free travel to Europe. Even more useful for business, the oligarch acquired Portuguese nationality in April 2021 under a law authorizing the issuance of a Portuguese passport to the descendants of Jews expelled in the XVand century. But the move caught the attention of the authorities. Investigators suspect the issuance of a false certificate of parentage by the rabbinical authorities of Porto, whose official has since been placed under house arrest pending the outcome of the investigation.

10. Refugees

True to his image, Roman Abramovich owns a home in Kensington Palace Gardens, reputed to be the most expensive avenue in London and nicknamed “Billionaires Alley”. A residence of fifteen rooms acquired in 2011 for the tidy sum of 90 million pounds (105 million euros), that Michael Gove, in charge of Housing within the British government, would see well occupied by Ukrainian refugees. He indicated in early March that the real estate of Vladimir Putin’s relative could be confiscated and used for this purpose. But many legal obstacles make the task complicated.

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