Russian elite escapes from Russia and buys real estate in Europe. A group of researchers wrote this investigative report. Although it is compiled from open sources, they would like to remain anonymous. This website has the exclusivity of this publication. Those who wish to quote or re-publish should mention the source EUelectionsBulgaria.com and link to the original.
Why are Russian high-ranking officials, businessmen, and propagandists from government’s entourage so interested in European real estate? Recently, the world media often concluded that the sanctions imposed by Western countries on Russia have not reached their goals. Both in the political sphere (the Kremlin’s political priorities have not changed much) and in the economic sphere as well.
Yes, GDP growth that has emerged after several years of recession is still extremely insignificant. The real income of the Russians, amid rising prices, has significantly decreased. Nevertheless, the crisis phenomena, at least, do not intensify. Unemployment is kept at a reasonable rate. Inflation, despite its growth, also has not become that critical.
It is a fact that the life of Russians has deteriorated. But again, the phenomenon is not that significant. What is more compelling, this applies specifically to ordinary Russians: the poor and the middle class. But the rich and, in particular, the super-rich citizens of Russia remain untouched: the situation is exactly the opposite. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, the total fortune of domestic billionaires increased by $20 billion. This trend persists in almost all years of sanctions’ pressure. In other words, the sanctions that were initially aimed not at the common people, but at the “Putin entourage” and their declared goal got a dramatic turn: while almost 40% of the country’s population is forced to save (including food), the wealth of the richest is growing. This applies to a great extent to oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin, who now not only receive the most profitable state contracts but also act as contractors where, due to sanctions, foreign companies refuse to participate.
A classic example is the Crimean Bridge that connects the annexed Crimean Peninsula with the continental part of Russia. Western countries do not recognize the annexation of the Crimea by Moscow. Thus, American, European and even Chinese companies had to abandon the lucrative contract (about $3.5 billion). As a result, Arkady Rotenberg, a person familiar with Vladimir Putin since the time of the joint training of judo in his youth, received the contract.
The Rothenberg family was successfully conducting their business before the implication of the sanctions. However, the sanctions only gave this business a stronger impetus.
Hence, there is another intriguing development, which largely determines the life of the Russian elite: their tendency to acquire real estate abroad, primarily in Europe. Suffice it to recall the scandal with the real estate of the same Rotenbergs in Italy at the end of 2014.
This is a curious psychological factor: among the many Russians who buy property in prestigious locations in Europe, there are a lot of people from Putin’s close circle, his long-time acquaintances and comrades. For instance, according to the financial data from 2014 billionaire Gennady Timchenko owns several properties in France and Switzerland as well.
Surprisingly, the current head of Russian Railways Oleg Belozerov does not see the huge embezzlement and inefficient use of budget funds in his company at all. Those allegations were recently reported to President Vladimir Putin by the Russian Prosecutor General. Consequently, the main task of the head of Russian Railways is the formation of his own reputation in the eyes of the President of the Russian Federation.
Gennady Kachurin, who ensures Oleg Belozerov’s constant contact with the head of state through his colleagues, purchased a house worth 10 million euros in Monaco. 600 million rubles’ private loan was issued by Gazprombank (10 million US dollars) for the official cover of this real estate transaction. Probably, the FSO is going to pay off his salary of a Russian officer. Indeed, these meetings with the president of the head of Russian Railways as a help to receive immunity from Arkady Rotenberg’s mood swings. He is the main curator of the industry when Oleg Belozerov is a man of Dmitry Kalantyrsky, a businessman living in Prague.
Furthermore, another former intelligence officer who worked in the German Democratic Republic through the First Main Directorate of KGB, Sergey Chemezov now heads the largest Russian state defence corporation Rostec. He has also bought a villa on a plot of 6 hectares in Spain in the name of his stepdaughter. At the most minimal estimates, the estate is worth 3 million US dollars.
Formally, all of the mentioned above are businessmen and top managers, whose large funds are easily explained. In general, Russian oligarchs very often choose London and Cote d’Azur for permanent residence, as well as Switzerland.
An even more interesting moment is the real estate in Europe owned by Russian officials and deputies. Factually, it would seem that those type of people is not so well-off. Thus, the ex-minister Mikhail Abyzov is the owner of the property in England and Italy. Former First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Igor Shuvalov, became the owner of a $10-million apartment in London. The former Minister of Agriculture Elena Skrynnik has real estate in France, where she resides now. For the sake of entertainment, we would mention Oleg Safonov, who was recently dismissed from the post of the head of the Federal Agency of Tourism. His income declaration for 2014 includes two houses in the distant Seychelles islands. The special representative of the president on trade and economic relations with Ukraine and the former minister of education Dmitry Livanov leases a 196.8-square-meters residence and a 48-square meters parking space for water transportation in Spain.
According to the declarations for 2017, many members of the State Duma and senators have real estate abroad. Among current members of the government, we can mention Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets (one-third of the apartment in Italy and half of the house in Switzerland), and Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Maxim Topilin, whose wife owns an apartment and garage in Bulgaria.
Moreover, Bulgaria is the most popular country among Russian officials: 176 civil servants own property there.
According to the press, the children of many former and current high-ranking Russian officials live and study abroad in the West. In particular, the son of the former Minister of Education Andrei Fursenko study in the United States, the daughter of the ex-chairman of the State Duma and a member of the Russian Security Council Boris Gryzlov live in Estonia. The son of the current First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Alexander Zhukov, lives in London, and the daughter of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, resides in Paris. Her mother (the first wife of Mr.Peskov) bought a 180-square-meter apartment in Paris that was priced at almost $2 million in 2016. Additionally, according to Peskov’s 2017 financial declaration, his minor son owns a 180-square-meter apartment there as well. Moreover the current wife of the press secretary of the Russian president, Tatiana Navka, has been owning a 126-square-meter apartment in the USA for a few years now.
The media covered in details where exactly the children of the Russian elite — ministers, senators, and deputies — are studying. To the point, the State Duma blocked a bill banning children of Russian officials to study abroad. The lower house of the Russian parliament opposed the ban on the ownership of the foreign real estate by government officials three times: in 2013 (even before the introduction of sanctions), 2014 and in 2016.
In other words, civil servants verbally demonstrate ardent patriotism and support for the Russian leadership. Although at the same time they send their children to study and live in Europe, where those already warm houses are ready for them. It is piquant that leading Russian propagandists are joining them in doing this. Thus, TV host Vladimir Solovyov, the owner of a villa on Lake Como. The well-known pro-governmental media manager Aram Gabrelyanov owns the apartment in Paris. First Channel TV anchor Ekaterina Andreeva is, for her part, an honorary citizen of Montenegro.
There is a reasonable question of why super manager, members of the government, patriotic officials and parliamentarians, as well as odious propagandists of the Kremlin’s course, are craving European real estate so badly? Don’t they believe in the prosperous future of Russia? Do they need Russia just as a source of earning easy money? The questions are legitimate.