Is Putin The Richest Man In Russia?

When European Union sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2022 (via Reuters), many wondered who these drastic measures would impact most. It's a valid question, and logic leads to the general assumption that these sanctions, reserved for Russia's elite oligarchs, would hit President Vladimir Putin the hardest. He is the richest man in Russia after all ... or is he?

A careful review of recently released financial documents reveals an unexpected story about this — one that is rooted in controversy and speculation (per Quartz). As it turns out, there are several contenders in the running for the richest man in Russia. But according to several reliable sources — like The New York Times, for example — President Putin himself is not a contender. This is a rather convenient position given the current political climate. Here's a look at why Putin may or may not be the richest man in Russia.

Many believe President Putin hid his wealth

In 2019, Quartz reported that Vladimir Putin's documented net worth was "comically modest" to the point of being utterly ridiculous. Indeed, the Russian president claimed to have taken home a meager salary of just $135,000 for the 2018 calendar year. His only assets on paper are an 830-square-foot apartment and garage, two vintage sedans, and a trailer. But who's counting, really, aside from the entire world.

According to The New York Times, President Putin's wealth and assets are "maddeningly opaque," with top-dollar purchases tied to his friends, family members, and even rumored romantic partners, but never directly to him. This has led to the widespread speculation that President Putin really is the richest man in Russia but has masterfully and successfully concealed his wealth from the entire world. This would mean that on paper, he is a pauper, and in real-life, a bona fide billionaire.

Rumor puts Putin at an estimated net worth of over $100 billion

The New York Times reports that the controversial Russian president might own over $100 billion in hidden assets he's attributed to people close to him. Some of the assets in question include a grandiose estate aptly referred to as "Putin's Palace" that sports a hefty price tag of $1 billion all by itself, a $100 million yacht that Yahoo! News reports has already been seized, and a multi-million dollar apartment rumored to be in the possession of his alleged unofficial lover Svetlana Krivonogikh (via Maski-Proekt).

Assets amongst Russian oligarchs are difficult to trace, making them that much harder to freeze. However, just because the wealth is hard to find doesn't mean it's nonexistent. If these eyebrow-raising suspicions of hidden wealth hold true, there lies no doubt that Putin is the richest man in Russia. But if they do not, there are certainly other contenders, many of whom are in cahoots with President Putin either publicly or behind closed doors.

Alexei Mordashov just might be the richest man in Russia

In 2020, Forbes reported that self-made steel billionaire Alexei Mordashov (alternatively Alexey) was the fourth richest person in Russia. Currently, The Guardian reports that he is now the richest man in the region, his sobering wealth perhaps even surpassing that of the president (if you believe the paperwork).

Mordashov, the son of a mill worker, has a rather impressive rise-to-fame success story, one where he climbed the corporate ladder to become the chief executive of Severstal, the region's leading steel and mining corporation. Since then, his risky investments into tourism and television have certainly paid off, garnering him a fortune worth about $29.1 billion.

Even if this is true, and the billionaire buck has been successfully passed to Alexei Mordashov for the richest man in Russia, it's important to point out that this man of steel still has ties to Putin (via USA Today). In a recent interview, Mordashov described those ties as purely economic, claiming he has zero political involvement with the president as of late.

Vladimir Potanin is also a contender for Russia's richest man

While this name is eerily similar to the president's, Vladimir Potanin is an entirely separate but equally prominent figure. He, too, might just hold the title of the richest man in Russia. In 2020, he was certainly holding the position firmly on Forbes' list.

Vladimir Potanin acquired his wealth, which is in the bracket of at least $19.7 billion dollars, by authoring a very controversial program known as "loans for shares." This scheme, which was laid out in the mid-1990s, placed previously state-owned wealth into the hands of a small group of affluent, well-connected businessmen, much to the criticism of academic scholars (via PBS). At the expense of many hardworking citizens, Potanin is currently residing in a castle-like executive flat complete with a swimming pool, cafeteria, hair salon, and guarded private ski run. His ties to the Russian government are quite extensive and date back for decades and generations.

Russian money's hard to follow due partly to US real estate loopholes

Identifying the richest man in Russia is a difficult and perhaps even impossible task. According to Forbes, the top four contenders in 2020 were, in chronological order: Vladimir Potanin, Vladimir Lisin, Leonid Mikhelson, and Alexey Mordashov. Clearly, there are multiple Vladimirs listed, but none of them are President Putin.

From the looks of things, industries such as steel, gas, chemicals, and metals ⁠— not to mention questionable money-making schemes ⁠— seem to be the most profitable for Russian oligarchs. However, the money, assets, and overall wealth of these aristocrats are intentionally difficult to quantify. CBS News reports that some of this confusion stems from a different Russian connection ⁠— the one that exists between Russian elites and the U.S. real estate investment market. The story has it that as Russian money makes its way through U.S. investment properties, this decades-long transaction leaves lots of room for illegal activities like money hiding and/or money laundering. Go figure.