Oleg Deripaska: Putin ‘favorite’ with strong ties to British politics | Oleg Deripaska
HHe is said to be Vladimir Putin’s favorite industrialist, with deep links between British and Russian establishments. Unlike some of his compatriots, Oleg Deripaska cultivated influence quietly, preferring to stay out of the limelight.
Yet the metals tycoon has found himself at the center of a series of high-profile political wrangles, which culminated in the British government’s decision on Thursday to add him to the list of those slapped with sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine.
The British justification is that Deripaska is “a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch” who is “closely associated with the Russian government and Vladimir Putin”, according to his sanctions listing.
“Deripaska is or has been involved in obtaining benefits or support from the Russian government,” he says, by virtue of his interests in “Russia’s mining and energy sectors, ‘strategic importance for the Russian government’.
The 54-year-old has also come under scrutiny for his political ties to the UK. In 2008, he found himself embroiled in a bitter row that revealed his links to two of the most powerful figures in modern British politics: Lord Mandelson and George Osborne.
It all started when it emerged that then-trade secretary Peter Mandelson had cut import duties affecting Deripaska’s aluminum empire Rusal after entertaining himself aboard the ‘superyacht’ oligarch, the 73m Queen K, off Corfu.
The plot was complicated when financier Nat Rothschild wrote to The Times to say that George Osborne, the Tory shadow chancellor and former pupil of Oxford’s Bullingdon drinking club, had also met the Russian in Corfu, at the villa of the Rothschild family.
Osborne, he said, “found the opportunity to meet Mr. Deripaska so good” that he invited Tory fundraiser Andrew Feldman to visit Deripaska on his yacht.
Rothschild claimed the idea had been floated that Deripaska could donate to the Conservatives through one of his UK companies, avoiding a ban on foreign funding for political parties. Deripaska was not present during the conversation and Osborne later said the mention of donations was not a suggestion but a standard explanation of the rules.
The Russian’s addition to the sanctions list means he is now bound by an entirely different set of rules, including a freeze on his UK assets and a travel ban that covers private jets and yachts.
Yachts were not part of the 54-year-old’s debut. He is from Krasnodar in southern Russia, where he was raised by his grandparents after his widowed mother had to move to find a job. After graduating in physics from Moscow State University in 1993, he became a metal trader.
Like many oligarchs, Deripaska owes much of her wealth to the tumultuous fall of the Soviet Union. He took control of vast formerly state-owned aluminum assets, which he later consolidated into the Rusal Group, in partnership with Roman Abramovich, another sanctions target.
Rusal, now part of Deripaska’s En+ group, raised $1.5 billion with a listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2017. But in 2018, the US included the company and Deripaska himself on a list of sanctioned entities and oligarchs, in response to “global malign activity”. by Russia.
That same year, Belarusian model and escort Anastasia Vashukevich claimed to have evidence of Deripaska’s involvement in attempted interference in the US election, after spending time on another of her yachts, the Elden.
She was arrested upon arrival in Moscow after her deportation from Thailand.
US sanctions against En+, but not Deripaska himself, were eventually lifted with the help of Tory peer Greg Barker, who was awarded a bonus worth over £3million for his role in negotiations with the US Treasury. Deripaska has agreed to leave En+’s board of directors and reduce its stake to less than 50% under the agreement. Barker was president of En+ until he stepped down earlier this week.
Deripaska’s British business interests were aided by learning English at the London School of Economics in the 2000s. His wife from 2001 to 2018, Polina Yumasheva – the daughter of a senior adviser to the former president Russian Boris Yeltsin – already spoke good English, having been sent to Somerset Millfield State School as a teenager.
Although Deripaska has strong ties to the UK, a person familiar with En+ and Deripaska said his view of the West had been “yellowed” by his apparent rejection of him and he had become “more more anti-American”.
“He’s fun, smart, articulate, he’s got a sense of humor,” they said. “He loves yoga and he’s extremely fit, a very smart guy who studied physics at university. But he’s torn between loving the west and on the other hand, he’s a Russian ideologue.
“I don’t think he’s a particular Putin fan, but he’s a Russian patriot through and through.”
Deripaska’s yachts are now at the center of two major political scandals, in the UK and the US. One, the Clio, went up the Suez Canal on Thursday afternoon. It had previously been identified among five other superyachts moored or sailing near the Maldives, all owned by Russian billionaires.