The Russian billionaires continue to amass wealth while the earnings of the population at large decline and the economy becomes increasingly nationalized.
At the end of 2018, the combined wealth of the 98 richest Russians, including those on the Forbes list, reached $421 billion.
Over the year, the owners of the Russian economy’s key assets became 1.1 trillion rubles richer ($16.8 billion).
Their total capital of 29 trillion rubles at the end of last year was more than the combined savings of the entire remaining Russian population in the banking system (27.7 trillion rubles as of 1 February), and only 10% or $40 billion shy of the Bank of Russia’s foreign currency reserves ($468.5 billion on 1 January).
Although the number of billionaires has dropped from 106 to 98, the price tag for joining the top 5 has passed the $20 billion mark for the first time in many years.
At the top of the list is Novatek CEO Leonid Mikhelson with $24 billion, $6 billion more than at the end of 2017. Mikhelson owes his wealth to Iosif Levinzon, Vice-Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, who helped him obtain his first gas-extraction license in 1996.
In the 2019 rankings, NLMK chairman Vladimir Lisin took second place, with his net worth growing from $19.1 to 21.3 billion during 2018. Under the Soviet Union, Lisin went from being an electrical mechanic to being the CEO of the Karaganda Metallurgical Combine, and in 1996 was able to wrest control of NLMK from the Chernoy brothers and Vladimir Potanin.
LUKOIL president Vagit Alekperov took third place with $20.7 billion (+$4.3 billion), and Severstal chairman Alexei Mordashov took fourth with $20.5 billion. Both acquired their multi-billion dollar assets during the chaos of privatization in the 1990s.
Fifth place went to President Vladimir Putin’s close friend, Gennady Timchenko, with $20.1 billion (+$4.1 billion), who acquired his wealth by trading Russian oil through the Gunvor commodity company, and managed to sell his share in the company the day before it was blacklisted by the US Treasury Department (March 2014).
The billionaire Kirill Shamalov lost his place in the top five. Before 2018, he was married to Katerina Tikhonova, whom Reuters and Bloomberg believe to be Vladimir Putin’s daughter.