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These Putin Pals Were Mysteriously Spared from U.S. Sanctions

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Banking tycoons Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman worked hard to embed themselves among Washingtons elite over the yearsand their ties to Putin run deep.

Mikhail Svetlov / Getty

During the 1990s, as their business empire grew, Aven and Fridman were dogged by allegations, including from the FSB and the Russian parliament, of connections with organized crime, drug trafficking, and money laundering. In 2005, a United States district court in Washington, D.C. dismissed a 2000 libel suit filed by Fridman and Petr Aven against the Center for Public Integrity for repeating these allegations in an online article, noting that plaintiffs no doubt have the wherewithal to respond to erroneous publications through persuasion rather than litigation.

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When Putin began cracking down on oligarchs in 2000, forcing Berezovsky to leave Russia, the former Alfa-Bank directors managed to remain in the Russian presidents good graces. According to Avens deposition for the 2000 libel suit, his and Fridmans enterprise was one of a handful of private financial companies with a special, direct line to the Kremlin. Their friendly relations with Putin were helped by the advocacy of former Alfa-Bank deputy chairman Vladislav Surkov, who became a deputy head of Putins Presidential Administration and one of Putins top policy advisers. Aven was also a personal friend of Igor Sechin, Putins closest confidant.

Meanwhile, the bankers had begun establishing their image as friendly oligarchs in the U.S. In 2002, they hired the top Washington public relations firm BGR to pave their way into elite government and think-tank circles. That year, Aven spoke at the Carnegie Center in Washington, touting the Alfa Group conglomerate (which included oil and telecom companies, along with banking) and advocating for Russias entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The two Putin emissaries would become familiar faces on the Washington speaking circuit. In 2003, Fridman was honored with the Golden Plate Award of the International Academy of Achievement in Washington, presented by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Alfa-Bank paid BGR close to $6 million for lobbying on behalf of bilateral US-Russian relations from 2004 to 2015.

Real estate tycoon Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, became a hugely valuable connection for Alfas men, themselves active supporters of Jewish and Israeli causes. In 2007, Rosen joined the international advisory board of Altimo, Alfa Groups telecom investment arm, and in 2012, he partnered with Fridman in a plan to buy up $1 billion in distressed properties along the east coast.

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That same year Fridman gave $1.25 million to the Kennedy Center for renovating a lounge. And in 2020, LetterOne paid the U.S. consulting firm Teneo over $1 million for advice on media strategy and help in arranging interviews.

A more sinister motive of Alfa-Bank may have been to gather information for the Kremlin on how cyberintelligence was collected. As journalist Marcy Wheeler hypothesized: Rather than finding anyone to sue [Alfa-Bank] has instead spent its time subpoenaing experts to learn as much as it can about how the U.S. tracks DNS records to prevent cyberattacks byamong other hostile countries Russia.

But for many, these words are too little, too late. Fridman and Aven have spent years courting Putin as he murdered and persecuted political critics, suppressed democratic freedoms, and attempted to topple democratically elected governments on Russias borders. Why theyve been spared from the onslaught of U.S. sanctions that have reduced other Russian oligarchs to tears remains a mystery.

Read more on: thedailybeast, mikhail, ukraine


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