Oligarchs to the Rescue!

Although it came out in yesterday’s edition of the Financial Times, I didn’t want to miss the chance to highlight Henry Foy’s very interesting report about how Russia’s biggest oligarchs are being reminded (gently?) of their duty to step in and help pay for pandemic relief efforts, from social cash transfers to comping medical gear and equipment.

According to Foy’s article, Alexei Mordashov, owner of Severstal, spent Rbs500m on the April bonus payments for all its staff, and also paid Rbs10,000 ($135) to the individual bank accounts of 10% of the more vulnerable population of Cherepovets to help them get by during the quarantine. The company also says it will soon begin manufacturing respirator masks for local residents.

The report also notes that Alisher Usmanov has donated 2 billion rubles to Russia’s coronavirus agency, Oleg Deripaska has given $19m to build seven hospitals, provide ventilators and ambulances, and buy face masks and virus testing kits, while Vladimir Potanin, is putting forward Rbs10.5bn to “maximise protection for our workers and all residents in the cities hosting the company’s enterprises.”

This is objectively good news – anytime we see philanthropic activity from Russia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, especially during a crisis, it should be celebrated. But let’s also not pretend it’s entirely voluntary. As I’ve written many times in the past – and I’m far from unique in observing this – the wealth one acquires in Russia is only wealth by permission of the tsar. That permission can be revoked or adjusted on an as-needs basis, which thankfully, appears to be the case this week.

Read Foy’s full article here.