Mikhail Fridman: Tenacious oligarch tripped up by sanctions

Fridman is one of the original seven banker-oligarchs from the 1990s
When the rest fell foul of Putin, Fridman held on and his bank flourished
Fridman fights sanctions from his gilded living room


$13bn net worth pre invasion
$11.7bn net worth post invasion

I started out with a window washing business, now I can’t even pay for a window cleaner
Lviv-born | Semibankirschina | Alfa Male
🇷🇺 🇺🇦 🇮🇱 🇬🇧 🏰
#alpha #sanctioned #westisbest

Mikhail Fridman’s first business was window washing, and he’s tried to provide foreigners with a rose-tinted window into Russia ever since.

A generation of Americans, British and Germans with an interest in Russia lived and worked in Moscow under his auspices as Alfa Fellows.

Fridman first became rich by buying up cheap crude oil and selling it at a stiff mark-up. As the old communist system collapsed, he co-founded the Alfa Group, which is now a banking, resources and retail conglomerate.

He became one of the original seven banker-oligarchs, or “semibankirschina,” who controlled vast swaths of the rapidly privatizing Russian economy and were widely reported to have helped bankroll Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign in 1996 — an allegation that Fridman has denied.

In a photo taken in London in 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stands aside as President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Mikhail Fridman.

Some of those banker-oligarchs would later fall foul of Putin — but not Fridman. His net worth peaked at $16.6 billion in 2013, according to Bloomberg, and stood at just shy of $13 billion the week before the invasion.

“He is one of the shrewdest businessmen in Russia, tough but with certain principles,” said Vladimir Ashurkov, who worked as a senior director in the Alfa Group between 2006 and 2012 and reported directly to Fridman.

Ashurkov says that Alfa bankers, like many working in Russian financial services, were accomplished corporate raiders, but there was a line they didn’t cross: Alfa would not “steal” businesses unless they had beef with someone. Fridman says, “No comment.”

Then, in 2012, Ashurkov crossed a line himself. He had been campaigning for opposition politician Alexey Navalny when he was asked to leave Alfa Group.

From windfall to the West

In 2013, Fridman pulled off the deal of his life, selling his stake in an oil company for several billion dollars to Rosneft, the partly state-owned petroleum company run by Igor Sechin, a close Putin ally. The reported $14 billion that flowed to Alfa Group set Fridman up in the West, where he acquired retail and telecommunications assets worth billions. He co-founded a private investment company in Luxembourg called LetterOne. He also bought a historic but derelict property in London’s Highgate Hill for a reported 65 million British pounds (over $78 million), which he has restored as a family home.

Andrei Movchan, an investment manager who worked at Alfa in the 1990s, said that Fridman pulled off “a miracle” with the Rosneft deal. Other oligarchs had been forced to hand over ownership of company shares to the state for a fraction of their value.

Within days of the invasion of Ukraine, warplanes bombed a plant in Lviv where Fridman’s father had been a chief engineer during the Soviet era. “He has a strong emotional attitude to the war in Ukraine, where Alfa Group has been major investors and philanthropists,” Ashurkov said.

“This crisis will cost lives and damage two nations who have been brothers for hundreds of years. While a solution seems frighteningly far off, I can only join those whose fervent desire is for the bloodshed to end,” Fridman wrote in a statement shortly after Russia’s invasion.

Fridman bought the derelict Athlone House in London for a reported £65m in 2016 and restored it as a family home

Sanctions are ‘like house arrest’

Fridman was one of the first oligarchs to be sanctioned. The EU referred to him as “a top Russian financier and enabler of Putin’s inner circle,” alleging that Alfa Bank had funded a charity project run by Putin’s eldest daughter and that Fridman had been “engaged in the Kremlin’s efforts to lift the Western sanctions issued to counter Russian aggressive policy towards Ukraine” since 2018.

“This is wholly false. I have never had any relationship with Mr. Putin or his daughter, nor sought to influence on their behalf,” Fridman said.

He has also previously said: “If the people who are in charge in the EU believe that because of sanctions, I could approach Mr. Putin and tell him to stop the war, and it will work, then I’m afraid we’re all in big trouble.”

Fridman has complained: “I can’t even pay in a restaurant. I have to eat at home and I am practically under house arrest.”

Not one to take any situation lying down, Fridman challenged the sanctions at the European General Court in May 2022. He also reportedly offered to transfer $1 billion of his personal wealth to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine. “I do wish to support our Ukrainian business,” he told Lighthouse Reports, “but this doesn’t and never had any relation to lifting sanctions.”

His assets remain frozen in the U.K. and EU, and the U.S. and the U.K. added Alfa Bank to their sanctions lists.

I am convinced that war can never be the answer. This crisis will cost lives and damage two nations who have been brothers for hundreds of years.” — February 28, 2022

In trouble with the law

In December, the U.K. National Crime Agency announced that officers from its Combatting Kleptocracy Cell had arrested a wealthy 58-year-old Russian businessman at his multi-million-pound residence in London “on suspicion of offenses including money laundering.” An employee had been seen leaving the premises with “a bag found to contain thousands of pounds in cash” and was also arrested, as was a third associate of the businessman. The trio were interviewed and then released on bail.

Russian state media reported that the businessman was Fridman, who was 58 at the time. The head of investigations at Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation also claimed to have matched a police photo of the interior of the raided mansion with the floor plan of Fridman’s London property, called Athlone House. Ironically, Ashurkov — the man who parted ways with his old boss Fridman all those years ago — now runs ACF in London. 

“Information you reference is factually incorrect. As such, I will not provide any further comment,” is Fridman’s response to these claims.

In October, the Ukrainian government sanctioned Fridman’s three adult children, although it is not clear they have any assets in the country.

  • Fridman’s daughter, Laura, has an Instagram account dedicated to her sphynx cat, Mona, seen posing in Tel Aviv in March 2022. Laura was reportedly drawn to ballet in the past but has since become a visual artist, specializing in digital works. She is interested in figurative art and depictions rich in color and motion. Laura posted about her art exposition on February 24, 2023, the anniversary of the invasion.

  • Mikhail Fridman has vowed to give his inheritance entirely to charity. His three children have been sanctioned by the Ukrainian government while continuing to post on social media. Images of lighthearted social gatherings with the oligarch’s children in attendance frequently pop up on social media. Here, Fridman’s daughter Katia is at a 90s-themed party with other social A-listers. All three of the Fridman children have been sanctioned by the Ukrainian government.

Fridman’s 22-year-old son Alexander revealed a pugnacious streak. Taking to YouTube from what he said was a rented apartment in Dubai (and “not a fucking mansion”), he raged that he couldn’t understand why “a bunch of fucking bureaucrats” had not taken his pro-Ukrainian views into account before sanctioning him.

Public reaction was swift: Enlist to fight in the Ukrainian army if you care so much, they wrote below his video.

Most recently, Fridman has embarked on a letter writing campaign to sway Western countries to remove sanctions against him. Written by members of the Russian opposition, the letters play up Fridman’s reputation while countering any idea that he is in cahoots with the Kremlin.

Alisher Usmanov Arkady Volozh Leonid Mikhelson Oleg Deripaska Mikhail Fridman Oleg Tinkov