Oleg Tinkov: a flawed rebel

Tinkov traded contraband jeans, vodka, perfume and cosmetics when he was a student
In 2021 Tinkov pleaded guilty for tax fraud
Tinkov has been outspoken against what he calls “this crazy war”


$7bn net worth pre invasion
<$1bn net worth post invasion

Tinkoff still on brand
Self-made | Cyclist | Adventurer
🖕 🇷🇺 🚴‍♂️ 🖕
#putin_is_an_emperor  #i_am_not_an_oligarch

Outspoken maverick Oleg Tinkov is living his best life.

After surviving a near death experience with leukemia, he has become an outspoken critic of the war in Ukraine.

He bikes in the Swiss Alps, fishes off the coast of Baja California and puffs a Davidoff cigar in central Zurich. While Tinkov slams the war, the West has largely ignored his positioning. Not so Kremlin officials, who have closely and warily watched Tinkov distance himself from them.

“He tried to stick to businesses that were outside the strategic scope of the Kremlin and not of interest to anybody,” said Andrei Movchan, an investment manager with 30 years of experience working in Russia.

Russia’s answer to Richard Branson

Tinkov is a Russian success story, a post-Soviet rags-to-riches cliche. The erstwhile billionaire was raised in harsh conditions in a Siberian coal mining town. He built a mini-business empire while still studying at a university in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. Like his contemporary Michael Dell selling PCs from his dorm room at the University of Texas, Tinkov sold contraband like jeans, vodka, perfume and cosmetics. His businesses became wildly profitable when Russia opened up to the West. He set up retail music shops, a record label and a beer brand, along with electronics stores. Tinkov sold many of these businesses off, like his brewery to InBev in 2005 for a significant profit.

Along the way, Tinkov did business with some of Russia’s biggest industrialists and moguls, including Roman Abramovich and Viktor Vekselberg, and became friendly with Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov. 

In 2006, he set up Tinkoff Bank, Russia’s first purely online bank, then took it public on the London Stock Exchange where it trades as TCS Group Holding. It now caters to more than 20 million customers, making it one of the largest digital banks in the world. Tinkoff sold his entire stake in the bank after the invasion, to Vladimir Potanin, the wealthiest man in Russia, in what he called “a fire sale.” He told the New York Times: “I couldn’t discuss the price. It was like a hostage — you take what you are offered. I couldn’t negotiate.”

Tinkov also owned a professional cycling team that competed in the Tour de France. The Tinkoff brand can be seen everywhere in Russia. Towards the end of 2021, Tinkov was estimated to have a net worth $9 billion.

  • “We are against this war”: The Tinkov family on February 28 2022.

  • In early March 2022, a frail Tinkov, still in recovery from leukemia, explained on his Instagram why he shouldn’t be considered an oligarch. Three weeks later, the U.K. sanctioned him anyway.

  • Tinkov renounced his Russian citizenship in November 2022, posting: “I can’t and won’t be associated with a fascist country, that started a war with their peaceful neighbour and killing innnocent people daily. It is a shame for me to continue to hold this passport. I hope more prominent Russian businessmen will follow me, so it weakens Putin’s regime and his economy, and put[s] him eventually to defeat. I hate Putin’s Russia, but love all Russians who are clearly against this crazy war!”

  • A relaxed-looking Tinkov shopping in Zurich with his son Pavel, posted via Instagram Stories, February 2023. The cigar belies Tinkoff’s battle against cancer just a couple of years before.

Social media warrior

Shortly after the Russian invasion, Tinkov posed with his family in an Instagram post declaring, “We are against this war!” By October, Tinkov renounced his Russian citizenship (a few years earlier he had renounced his American citizenship). “I hate Putin’s Russia, but love all Russians who are clearly against this crazy war!” he wrote. “I can’t and won’t be associated with a fascist country that started a war with their peaceful neighbor and [is] killing innocent people daily.” In December, he called out Russia’s oligarchs for their silence on Putin’s slide into dictatorship. “You can’t keep quiet when such evil is going on, and Putin has gone crazy.”

These positions won him few plaudits in the West. The United Kingdom slapped sanctions on him a month after the war began for “obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia.” It went on to describe TCS as “strategically significant” for financial services in Russia. Tinkov protested, calling the sanctions a “technical error” and urged them to be removed — so far without success.

In May 2022 Tinkov announced: “Goodbye Tinkoff Bank, Goodbye Russia.”

Tinkov may have anticipated being added to the EU sanctions list when he transferred the ownership of his Tuscan villa to his younger son he has three children all living in the West. The EU sanctions have yet to materialize. Tinkov has a history of trying to connect with the younger generations. He once launched a banking app called Tinkoff Junior to help children manage their personal finances.

In 2021, Tinkov pleaded guilty to tax fraud, for concealing more than $1 billion in assets from the U.S., and paid a $500 million penalty. The U.S. Department of Justice said it amounted to more than double what he had owed in the first place.

Within a week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tinkoff Bank shares lost more than 90% of their value, wiping $5 billion off Tinkov’s net worth and with it his billionaire status.

Even when riding, the war doesn’t leave my mind. I feel sorry for those who are dying every day and dying for no reason at all." — August 7, 2022

The Tinkov children

Two of Tinkov’s three children also have social media footprints. His daughter Daria, a wine enthusiast who runs the family’s luxury hospitality business, stopped updating her @drinkingwithdasha account after the invasion, although she still posts supportive emojis under her father’s anti-war messages. His eldest son Pavel makes the occasional party appearance on his glamorous Russian girlfriend’s TikTok account, which is otherwise a scroll of video selfies showing the bounty from luxury shopping sprees and European city breaks.

Tinkov did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Research by Aiia Timofeeva and Ivan Makridin.

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