Disclaimer: this article contains multiple videos and infographics, and can be read here, in English, in its original version.

What is the role of the Russian oligarchs in the war against Ukraine? They themselves wish to convince others that they have nothing to do with the war — they have either kept deathly silence for a year and a half or are now trying to challenge the sanctions imposed on them by giving confusing interviews and complaining about their life. In reality, however, Proekt’s research has shown that the richest Russians have received billions of dollars in defense contracts, producing, among other things, the weapons used to kill civilians in Ukrainian cities. But even knowing this, the oligarchs prefer to remain silent.

On the afternoon of February 24, 2022, as Russian missiles were already attacking targets deep inside Ukraine, Roman Abramovich, No. 12 on Forbes’ last pre-war list of Russia’s richest people , was flying his business jet to Moscow. According to his acquaintance, Abramovich was trying to make it in time for Vladimir Putin’s scheduled meeting in the Kremlin with members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), which is essentially a club for the country’s richest businessmen. He still didn’t make it in time. When Abramovich landed, he called Putin and asked for a personal meeting, where he offered his mediation services in organizing peace talks with Ukraine . The negotiations organized by Abramovich eventually led to nothing, and the businessman soon found himself sanctioned by the EU, the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Ukraine, and lost a considerable part of his fortune and assets.

The meeting of Vladimir Putin with members of RSPP, February 24, 2022. Source: kremlin.ru

The version about Abramovich being late to the Kremlin meeting is probably just a cover-up. The businessmen invited to the Kremlin were notified of the meeting two weeks in advance, the exact date and time was announced on February 22 , and on the day of the event the attendees waited several hours for Putin to arrive — in short, Abramovich probably had enough time to get to Moscow in time for the event. However, being experienced in Kremlin intrigue, the oligarch could not help but realize that anyone who appeared in public next to Putin on the day the war against Ukraine began would quickly and almost inevitably end up on Western sanctions lists. This is exactly what happened: within a short time after the meeting, sanctions of one kind or another were imposed on all 37 people representing the RSPP at the Kremlin meeting. This included such guests as Tigran Khudaverdyan and Alexander Shulgin, who were never even considered oligarchs and came to the meeting as directors of their companies, Yandex and Ozon, respectively .

Abramovich was not the only one who showed political acumen — many of Russia’s top billionaires, who usually did not shy away from meetings with Putin, didn’t come to the Kremlin. This included Alisher Usmanov, Iskandar Makhmudov, Alexander Abramov, Vladimir Lisin, Viktor Rashnikov, and others. Although they wore medical masks that hid half of their faces, the 37 people who did show up looked pale “even against the white walls of the Catherine Hall” and refused to eat, a correspondent for Kommersant, a newspaper owned by Usmanov, reported from the meeting. Usmanov himself has been living in Uzbekistan, his second homeland, for some time now, keeping quiet and occasionally making timid pacifist remarks. His industrial assets, however, have played an important role in supplying the Russian army and the occupied territories, and his Kommersant newspaper is an important link in the Kremlin’s system of military censorship and propaganda. The situation is similar for a great many top Russian businessmen, both those who dared to meet with Putin and those who did not show up for the meeting. Nearly all of them have maintained a deathly silence for almost a year and a half that the war has been going on, some have made vacuous anti-war statements, and only one of them, Oleg Tinkov, has dared to criticize the Kremlin’s policies . At the same time, the enterprises of many silent oligarchs have been supplying the Russian defense-industrial complex with a huge number of goods and services, including those needed directly to produce missiles, bombs, and bullets that kill Ukrainian civilians. Even those oligarchs who have left Russia, such as Andrey Melnichenko, or those who are desperately trying to whitewash their image and get sanctions lifted from them, such as Mikhail Fridman and other shareholders of the Alfa Group consortium, worked for the war, either directly or indirectly.

At least 81 people from the last pre-war Forbes ranking of the 200 richest Russians were openly involved in supplying the Russian army and military-industrial complex.

80 of them are under sanctions, but only 14 of those 80 are sanctioned in all jurisdictions of the pro-Ukrainian coalition, and 34 were only sanctioned by Ukraine. The total amount of public contracts that the companies of these businessmen concluded with the Russian defense industry during the military conflict in Ukraine (2014 -2023) is huge — at least 220 billion rubles, or almost $3 billion.

How did we make these calculations and what did they include? Proekt analyzed public government contracts concluded by companies partially or fully owned by members of the last pre-war Forbes ranking with defense plants, the Ministry of Defense and the National Guard since the beginning of the partial occupation of the territory of Ukraine (2014-2023). It is important to note that since 2017, taking advantage of changes in Russian legislation, the Ministry of Defense and military plants have started to classify their contracts. Therefore, a) most of the contracts we have found relate to the period between 2014 and 2018, and b) the actual number of businessmen working for the war and the money they received for it may be significantly higher than our database shows .

Detailed methodology and necessary reservations

This is also another reason for us to call our calculation of the amount of contracts a minimum estimate. In our calculations, we could not take into account the contributions of certain businessmen to the war by means of so-called “homework”. This is what several businessmen interviewed by Proekt call informal contributions to various government-affiliated foundations, organizations, or directly into the pockets of important officials, including Putin. We also did not take into account the material contributions that many Forbes list members have made to the functioning of Putin’s political regime (for example, Arkady Rotenberg’s business partner Alexander Ponomarenko, who ran sensitive errands in Putin’s interests, or Ruslan Baisarov, who provides finances to Chechnya’s leader and prominent “war hawk” Ramzan Kadyrov, or Vladimir Litvinenko, a major shareholder of PhosAgro and Putin’s close associate, were all omitted from our ranking). Finally, the list predictably excluded managers of state corporations and banks like Sergei Chemezov, Andrei Kostin or Igor Sechin, who have long been as wealthy as the major private businessmen, but are involved in the war “ex officio” — their companies are directly involved in arming, supplying or financing the Russian army.

“It is hard to comment on your conclusions. How can you count all those who have had long-term contracts with the military-industrial complex? Were they supposed to sever the relationships their companies have been building up for years? That doesn’t mean they are all supporters of the war. There are no supporters at all, they’re all just wimps,” — a top manager of one of the large companies mentioned in our guide commented on the list compiled by Proekt. “He is sitting quietly in the UAE, waiting for everything to pass him by,” says a former partner of one of the billionaires on The Proekt’s list. Fear is the main reason for the oligarchs’ silence and inaction cited by our interlocutors. For some time now, many businessmen have been afraid to speak even non-publicly: “It’s not relevant,” one of the participants in the February meeting with Putin responded in late 2022 to Proekt’s offer to talk (before that, the same interlocutor did not refuse to talk to journalists off the record). Two of the oligarchs mentioned in our list have been punished for being insufficiently cautious: Farkhad Akhmedov and Roman Trotsenko were wiretapped, and their private conversations with criticism of Putin were published by unknown sources . However, based on public data, neither Akhmedov nor Trotsenko have suffered for their words. At the same time, a company in which Trotsenko owns a stake supplied raw materials to major explosives manufacturers in Russia. Akhmedov, in turn, has long been, and probably still is, a shareholder of Lukoil, Novatek and Nornickel , which regularly supply fuel and metal to defense companies and the army. Lukoil’s plants are also on the list of producers of rocket fuel, which is used, among other things, for the cruise missiles that are regularly fired at Ukraine.

Do the people on our list fear the deaths of people as much as they fear Putin? Apparently not: two months before cussing at Putin in a private phone conversation, Trotsenko accepted the Order of Friendship of Peoples from the Russian president.

The next chapters of this report deal with the truly scary things.

The Yablonska Street shootings

By March 5, 2022, 52-year-old Irina Filkina had spent a week living in the basement of a shopping center in a residential area of Kyiv, where she worked as a boiler room operator. The war had caught her at work, and at first she thought she was safer in the city. However, when shelling started, Irina thought it would be more sensible to return home to the suburbs. She got a bicycle and set off through Bucha.

On the way, Irina called her daughter, who lived in Poland at the time. She tried to persuade her mother not to go to the territory already occupied by Russian troops for two weeks. But Filkina didn’t listen: “Don’t worry, I’m your mom, I’ll always be able to handle everything. Mommy loves you!” After talking to her daughter, Irina turned from Vokzalna Street onto Yablonska Street.

Now the whole world knows the posthumous photo of Filkina: a cyclist in a blue jacket, lying on a lawn, her hand with a manicure and drops of caked blood flung aside. The photo was published by Reuters on April 2, after the Russian troops had left Bucha. Filkina was identified by her manicure (one of her nails had a heart) by makeup artist Anastasia Subacheva. Filkina’s body lay in the street for a whole month.

Lifetime and posthumous photo of Irina Filkina

Russian propaganda first called this photograph, as well as other evidence of atrocities in Bucha, a forgery, then blamed it on a provocation by the Ukrainian army. Those who claimed otherwise were imprisoned by the Russian authorities — it was for his account of the crimes in Bucha, in particular the murder of Filkina, that oppositionist Ilya Yashin was imprisoned for 8.5 years.

However, for the rest of the world, there has long been no uncertainty in the case of Irina’s death. Thanks to a Ukrainian drone that was monitoring the Russian military stationed in the city, not only Filkina’s death was documented, but also her murder itself.

On March 5, the drone operator, who by that time had already filmed more than one murder, immediately spotted the cyclist approaching a dangerous intersection, so he kept a close eye on Filkina’s fate. Seconds after the woman turned from Vokzalna Street to Yablonska Street she was shot by a BMD-2 airborne assault vehicle marked with the “V” symbol. The woman died near the gate of house No. 342 on Yablonska Street. A little later, Oleg Abramov, one of the owners of this house, would also be killed at the same place.

Two BMD-2s were deployed at the intersection of Yablonska and Vokzalna Streets during the time the drone was observing. They shot at least six more civilians. One of them was another cyclist, 68-year-old Vladimir Brovchenko. Volunteer Zhanna Kameneva, another Bucha resident Maria Ilchuk, and 14-year-old Anya Mishchenko with her mother Tamila were all killed inside a blue minibus that was shot up. Soon after, 61-year-old Mikhail Kovalenko was killed at almost the same spot.

Bodies of shot residents of Bucha. Photo: Viktor Shatilo

Drone video, footage from local resident Viktor Shatilo, who filmed the killings on his phone from the attic of his house, as well as archived footage from stationary CCTV cameras that recorded a column of Russian armored vehicles moving alog Yablonska Street, make it possible to establish that the killings of Filkina and other civilians were carried out by a BMD-2 equipped with a Fagot or Konkurs anti-tank missile system.

BMD-2 is a type of armored vehicle very common during the invasion of Ukraine. This can be evidenced by the fact that the AFU has destroyed or captured at least 213 such vehicles . Historically, the BMD-2 was produced by the Volgograd Tractor Plant. This enterprise went bankrupt in 2005 and then was liquidated. The plant lost most of its premises, but continued to produce military products under the wing of Rostec on a smaller area. Now the plant’s legal entity — Volgograd Machine-Building Company VgTZ — is owned by Kurganmashzavod and ultimately by the state-owned Rostec.

Of course, Rostec does not produce BMDs alone — the Volgograd and Kurgan plants have many private suppliers.

In particular, the BMD-2 is equipped with the 2A42 30mm automatic cannon, which is manufactured by Tulamashzavod. Since recently it has been in private ownership — its owner is listed as one Valery Dautov. Previously, he worked in several Rostec-affiliated structures, including arms factories. It is unknown how a state manager who has earned no more than 120 million rubles over the past 10 years got billions to buy Tulamashzavod and stakes in other defense companies in Tula Oblast . But in 2019, Dautov also got involved in a non-core business — crab fishing. Along with him, people representing the interests of Arkady Rotenberg also got into the crab business. It is quite likely that members of the Rotenberg family are also Dautov’s partners in the arms business. This family’s interest in the Tula arms factories became apparent in 2017, when Arkady Rotenberg’s son Igor became the owner of the Tula Cartridge Plant, which in turn owned the Ulyanovsk and Simbirsk cartridge plants. Later on, Rotenberg Jr. allegedly withdrew from the shareholding of the Tula Cartridge Plant. However, judging by the composition of the board of directors , the plant is still owned by the Rotenberg family and the family of another oligarch mentioned in our list, Konstantin Nikolaev (ranked 140th on the Forbes list).

Anti-tank missile system mounted on a BMD-2. CCTV footage from Bucha

In one of the Yablonska Street murders, Russian paratroopers allegedly used a Fagot or Konkurs anti-tank missile system mounted on a BMD-2 to shoot the vehicle in which Zhanna Kameneva and three other people were killed. It is difficult to say exactly which of these two ATGMs was used because of their visual similarity, but both are manufactured by the Tula-based KBP Instrument Design Bureau, which is part of the High Precision Systems holding company of Rostec State Corporation.

KBP produces a huge range of military products used during the invasion of Ukraine. This includes the BMD-4M, which was used to carry out at least one videotaped shooting of a civilian vehicle in Bucha.

(In the video, BMD-4M shooting at a civilian vehicle in Bucha. Source: The New York Times)

KBP also produces the Kornet, Kvartet and Metis ATGMs, as well as the Pantsir-S1, Kashtan-M and Tunguska-M1 air defense systems. All this military equipment is used in the war of aggression against Ukraine. Of course, an enterprise such as KBP depends on many suppliers. In particular, the Tula Cartridge Plant, which was or still is owned by Igor Rotenberg, provided services to KBP related to phosphatizing shells for firing the AGS-30 grenade launcher system mounted on the BMD-4M, and also supplied ammunition to this enterprise. The Ulyanovsk Cartridge Plant, also owned by the son of Rotenberg Sr., supplied primed cartridge cases and some small metal boxes.

The hull of the BMD-4M is made of aluminum armor developed by the Scientific Research Institute of Steel. The same company supplied KBP with hull blanks and dynamic protection elements. One quarter of the Scientific Research Institute of Steel is owned by Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the owner of AFK Sistema, who ranks 41st on the Forbes list.

The enterprise itself is supplied with steel products by the VSMPO-AVISMA Corporation owned by Mikhail Shelkov (No. 72 on the Forbes list). The Polema company owned by Evgeny Zubitskiy (No. 199) supplies tungsten parts and molybdenum bars. The company ordered steel pipes from the Chelyabinsk Tube Rolling Plant, which was owned by Andrei Komarov (No. 102) at the time the contracts were signed.

The missiles for the Kornet ATGM are supplied to the Tula plant by the Degtyaryov Plant owned by Igor Kesaev (No. 35 on the Forbes list).

Kornet anti-tank missile system

No military equipment can do without electronics. For example, transistors for KBP are supplied by Angstrem, and starters for electric motors are shipped by the Uralelecto Mednogorsk Electrotechnical Plant. Both are owned by Yevtushenkov’s AFK Sistema . Software for automating KBP production is provided by the Lanit company of Philip Gens (No. 124), and insurance services are provided by Yuri Kovalchuk’s Sogaz.

Naturally, most armored vehicles use shells. On April 2, 2022, just after the liberation of Bucha, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine reported the discovery of 643 “explosive objects” and published a picture showing about 50 of them.

The longest shell in this photo is presumably the 9M117M1-3 Arkan anti-tank missile, which the BMD-4Ms produced by KBP are armed with. The Sverdlov Plant in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast is responsible for the “stuffing” of these missiles. Chemical products (nitric acid, ammonium nitrate and aqueous ammonia) are supplied to the plant mainly by the Uralchem company owned by Dmitry Mazepin (No. 150 on the Forbes list). Sibur owned by Leonid Mikhelson (No. 5), Gennady Timchenko (No. 6) and others provided the plant with 2-ethylhexanol (isooctyl alcohol) . This plant buys aluminum powders from Rusal Ural, a company owned by Viktor Vekselberg (No. 20 on the Forbes list) and Oleg Deripaska (No. 37).

9M117M1-3 Arkan anti-tank missile

Sverdlov Plant appears to purchase ready-made missile casings. For example, it purchased casings for “article 9N142M” from the Degtyaryov plant owned by Igor Kesaev. This is the name of the shaped charge that is part of the Invar missile. The latter is used in the Reflex-M tank complex, which, for example, is installed on the Russian T-90 main battle tank.

In the photo of the Ukrainian rescuers, 3UBR6 30mm rounds with armor-piercing tracer projectile, which are used for the 2A42 and 2A72 cannons, are easily recognizable. The first one is used on the BMD-2, which gunned down the Ukrainians on Yablonska Street . 3UBR6 is manufactured by the NPO Pribor Scientific Production Association. This state-owned manufacturer depends on molybdenum sheet billets, which it buys from the Polema company owned by Evgeny Zubitsky (No. 199).

3UBR6 shells

The photo also shows VOG-25P grenade launcher rounds. These shrapnel rounds are designed for firing from underbarrel grenade launchers used with Kalashnikov assault rifles.

VOG-25 grenades

However, it is not always used for its intended purpose. For example, in May 2022, Bucha resident Tatiana Monko decided to return to the liberated city. In addition to her apartment being trashed, she also found a VOG-25 grenade installed as a booby trap — it was hidden under the hammers of the piano of Monko’s ten-year-old daughter.

VOG-25 grenade hidden in a piano in Tatyana Monko’s house

The fuzes for the VOG-25 are produced by the Biysk Production Association “Sibpribormash”. Metal products are supplied to this association by MMK-Metiz, which is part of Viktor Rashnikov’s Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works. The Chelyabinsk Tube Rolling Plant, which until 2021 belonged to Andrei Komarov and has now been taken over by the structures of Dmitry Pumpyansky, supplies seamless steel pipes to Biysk, while Kovalchuk’s Sogaz insures its employees.

Extrajudicial executions

Among those who participated in the capture of Bucha and committed war crimes were members of the 234th Airborne Assault Regiment of the Airborne Forces. In particular , they shot tied up people who surrendered or were detained during the first days of the occupation, presumably members of self-defense units formed from local residents. For instance, CCTV cameras recorded Russian soldiers separating nine male detainees from women and taking them to their base for interrogation.

(In the video, Detained men in Bucha. CCTV footage. Source: The New York Times)

Judging by the video, the men who surrendered did not have any weapons or even gear. Following the order of the Russian troops, the men obediently walked around the corner of the Russian base with their hands behind their heads. Five minutes later, locals heard gunshots and saw the bodies of the dead men. A Ukrainian drone flying near the location a few hours later also filmed the bodies of 7 men lying on the corner of the Russian base. Regardless of whether those killed were members of the resistance, shooting unarmed people is a war crime.

What weapons were used to shoot the seven men? On the social media pages of soldiers of the 234th Airborne Assault Regiment, one can find photos that give an idea of the kind of small arms used by the soldiers of this unit.

The photo shows paratroopers in the second row holding assault rifles of the AK-100 family, in which wooden parts were completely replaced by polymer ones. The co-owners of the Kalashnikov concern until the end of 2017 were Iskandar Makhmudov (No. 19 on the Forbes list), Andrei Bokarev (No. 59) and Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko. Obviously, the manufacturing of assault rifles requires steel. It is supplied to the Kalashnikov Concern by Alexei Mordashov’s Severstal, and pipe products are supplied by Dmitry Pumpyansky’s TMK. The same company supplies these products to the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant, a subsidiary of the Concern. Kalashnikov also buys rolled titanium from Mikhail Shelkov’s VSMPO-AVISMA.

Автомат Калашникова 100-й серииRifles of the AK-100 family

Several servicemen in the foreground clearly hold PKP Pecheneg machine guns. This gun is developed and produced by the state-owned Central Scientific — Research Institute for Precision Machine Engineering (TsNIITochMash) in Podolsk and the private Degtyaryov Plant owned by Igor Kesaev. Ammunition for the machine gun was supplied by the Tula and Ulyanovsk Cartridge Plants during the period when they were openly owned by Igor Rotenberg.

PKP Pecheneg machine gun

Voluntary medical insurance services for employees of TsNIITochMash, as well as property insurance services for the Kalashnikov Concern, are provided by the AlfaStrakhovanie company owned by Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Alexey Kuzmichev, Petr Aven and Andrei Kosogov. It also insured cars of 65 military units and other organizations associated with the National Guard and the Ministry of Defense.

Fridman and other Alfa shareholders have an even closer relationship with the Tula Cartridge Plant, which supplies cartridges and cartridge cases to the manufacturers of all the small arms mentioned in this chapter. This is worth mentioning separately. Alfa Bank actively provided loans to defense companies after the first invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops in 2014, but in 2018 the bank announced that it would not serve the defense industry due to sanctions risk. Like other banks, it transferred its remaining “defense” loans to Promsvyazbank. However, in mid-2020, Alfa once again extended a credit line, presumably in the amount of 1.8 billion rubles, to Igor Rotenberg’s cartridge factory . Alfa Bank kept the credit line for the cartridge plant open even after the outbreak of the full-scale war; it was only closed in December 2022. In response to an inquiry from Proekt, Alfa Bank itself said that it only financed the production of sporting and hunting cartridges intended for delivery to the United States. It is possible the bank really did intend to finance export production . However, we should note that the subject of pledge under the Alfa Bank loan was 27 pieces of various equipment, of which 26 are presumably universal, i.e., can be used for the production of a wide range of products.

It is also important to understand that recently — after receiving loans from Alfa Bank and other banks — the Tula Cartridge Plant has started to actively expand. In particular, in late 2022, a new production facility with new equipment was added to the plant, and now it is clearly loaded with defense orders, as instead of the planned dismissal of over 600 idle employees, the plant is expanding its staff to the maximum extent possible.

Since 2014, the Pskov-based 76th Guards Air Assault Division has been using the Ratnik gear, which the Defense Ministry calls “the gear of a future soldier”. Among the protection elements of this gear is the 6B47 helmet produced by the already mentioned TsNIITochMash. The latter has contracts with the companies of Makhmudov, Bokarev, Kesaev and Igor Rotenberg.

Leaflet describing the Ratnik gear

What makes Ratnik unique is, of course, not the body armor, but the equipment that comes with it. For instance, the kit is equipped with the Strelets reconnaissance, control and communications system. It includes, for example, a PDU-4 laser rangefinder designed for target designation. A Bucha resident found a box from such a device in his looted house. He put it up for auction and also posted photos showing that the rangefinder was ordered by the Defense Ministry for the Pskov-based 76th Guards Air Assault Division, and was supplied by Radioavionica, a company owned by the family of Andrei Turchak, the second man in the Federation Council and the United Russia party . Proekt has already reported on how the Turchak family profits from Soviet defense enterprises.

Ratnik kit left by the Russian troops in Bucha

The crimes in Bucha had to be somehow justified to the Russian audience. Before the introduction of the toughest possible repressive measures against anyone who questioned the official Russian point of view, this task was handled by propagandists. They labeled the videos and photographs that surfaced immediately after the liberation of the town as fakes.

For instance, on April 3, Channel One anchor Ekaterina Berezovskaya described the event as follows: “Here is another accusation from the Ukrainian fake news factory. Our military allegedly massacred civilians in the town of Bucha. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry provided a commentary to this lie: Bucha is supposedly ‘the second Srebrenica’”. On April 9, REN-TV channel showed its viewers footage of Ukrainian military personnel in Bucha pulling bodies by ropes. The anchor explained that in this video the AFU soldiers were placing the corpses on the roads so that “as many dead civilians as possible would get into the frame, in accordance with the director’s intention”. According to her, the footage was shot while preparing the “movie set,” it leaked due to the rush, and now proves a “cynical staging.” In fact, the original video was published on April 2 by Associated Press, with the comment “Soldiers pull a body with a cable for fear it’s booby-trapped.” Both ChannelOne and REN-TV are part of National Media Group (NMG), which at the start of the war was owned by Yuri Kovalchuk (No. 47), Vladimir Bogdanov (No. 76) and Alexei Mordashov . As Proekt previously reported, Vladimir Putin himself also secretly owned a stake in NMG.

Still from a REN-TV report about Ukrainians allegedly planting bodies in the streets after the Russian troops left Bucha

While television creates crude fake news, newspapers and Internet media are engaged in more sophisticated propaganda for the intellectual audience. For example, most of the news about Bucha in the RBC media outlet owned by Grigory Berezkin (No. 157) looked something like this: a couple of sentences saying that “a number of media outlets” and “the Ukrainian authorities” had published images of corpses of civilians from Bucha, followed by several paragraphs with official statements from the Russian side claiming that the events in Bucha were a provocation and a staging.

However, the main role in Russian propaganda is, of course, played not by individual media outlets, but by Yandex. Internet media get most of the traffic to their websites if their story appears on the search engine’s home page in the section with the five top news stories. Yandex management has always claimed that this “top news” section is formed automatically. However, as journalists have repeatedly proved, the news list is formed in coordination with the Kremlin . That is why on April 4, the search engine’s audience saw the news about Bucha reported by RIA Novosti under the headline “The Foreign Ministry named disruption of peace talks as the purpose of the crime of Ukrainian radicals in Bucha”. At that time, Yandex was owned by Arkady Volozh (No. 64) and Vladimir Ivanov (No. 159).

Episode 2

Murder of 8-year-old Kirill Pyakhin and 26 other people in Vinnytsia


In the late morning of July 14, 2022, 8-year-old Kirill Pyakhin was sitting with his uncle in a car parked outside the Yubileyny consumer services center in the heart of Vinnytsia, waiting for his grandmother. Not long ago he lived in Kherson with his parents, but now the city had been occupied , but Kirill and his mother seemed to be safe — here, in central Ukraine, far from the main fronts, there had been no missile strikes for three months, and the rare air raids were successfully repelled by air defense. Despite the air raid alert declared half an hour ago, Kirill’s grandmother went to get some paperwork done: his family was going to escape from the war to Moldova soon . However, the boy did not get the chance to dream about the trip. At 10:45, a Russian missile exploded near the parking lot. The cars caught fire, Kirill was unable to get out and died.

Kirill Pyakhin

That day, three missiles at once struck a busy intersection in the city center between the House of Officers and the nine-story building of the Yubileiny consumer services center, where there were public transport stops, taxi parking, many offices, stores, a large bank branch and a medical center. The next day, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that a “high-precision” strike had destroyed “participants in a meeting of the Ukrainian Air Force command with representatives of foreign arms suppliers” held at the House of Officers.

Like in many other Ukrainian cities, the House of Officers of the Vinnytsia military garrison had been used as a venue for cultural events, including concerts and children’s hobby groups, for many years. That morning there was also a sound check for an upcomig concert going on — sound engineer Yevgeniy Kovalenko, who was conducting it, was killed and his crew members were wounded. Nevertheless, three AFU officers are indeed listed among the victims of the strike, along with 21 other adults and three children. Along with Kirill Pyakhin, other child ictims were 4-year-old Liza Dmitrieva, whose mother was taking her to a speech therapist, and 7-year-old Maxim Zharyi, who was in the medical center destroyed by the missile. 202 people were injured. 55 detached houses and apartment buildings, 40 cars and two tramcars were destroyed or damaged.

That morning, Vinnitsa was shelled with sea-based Kalibr missiles.

Fragments of a Russian Kalibr missile in Vinnytsia. Source: DW

According to Yuri Ignat, commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, the shooting was carried out from a submarine operating in the Black Sea. Another version suggests that Vinnytsia was shelled from the Admiral Makarov frigate or another ship of this type. Russian propaganda — Channel One and Rossiya-1 — accompanied the stories about the shelling of Vinnytsia with footage of a small Buyan-M-class corvette firing missiles. Although “canned footage” (i.e. pre-recorded videos) is often used for such stories, this version cannot be ruled out either.

Launch of a Kalibr missile

Missiles and warships are among the most expensive products of Russia’s military-industrial complex. Dozens of enterprises, not all of which are state-owned, work to build, repair and maintain them. In recent years, Russia’s shipbuilding and ship repair plants have signed contracts with at least 25 private companies owned by people from Forbes list. At least seven other companies owned by the Forbes billionaires have contributed to the development of the Kalibr missiles.

Russia has seven submarines in the Black Sea, all carrying Kalibr missiles. The oldest of them, Alrosa, was commissioned in 1989. After the 1997 partition of the fleet and until the seizure of Crimea, it was the only combat-ready submarine in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. After the annexation of the peninsula, Alrosa was immediately sent for repairs to the 13th shipyard of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, which she left in the summer of 2022. It was during this modernization that the boat was armed with Kalibr missiles.

During the repair of Alrosa, the 13th shipyard purchased materials from Viktor Rashnikov’s Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, and electrical equipment from Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s companies. The plant was issued loans by Rossiya Bank, which is controlled by Putin’s best friend, billionaire Yuri Kovalchuk. Other shareholders of this bank include Putin’s former mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh, although her current net worth is not enough to be included in the Forbes ranking.

Alrosa submarine

Neither Rashnikov, nor Yevtushenkov, let alone Kovalchuk, have spoken out about the war in Ukraine and the missile strikes on civilian targets, although all three have lost over $3 billion over the course of the war.

Whereas Rashnikov and Kovalchuk have long been under all sorts of sanctions, Yevtushenkov has only been sanctioned by the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ukraine. The authorities of the latter seized assets belonging to the oligarch in September 2022 . However, Yevtushenkov still has real estate in France, and his company AFK Sistema owns hotels in the Czech Republic. The oligarch even increased his capital within Russia by buying out the Radisson and Olympia Garden hotel chains from the Norwegian Wenaasgruppen, which left the country after the outbreak of war.

The other six Russian submarines appeared in the Black Sea after the annexation of Crimea. All of them were built under the same Varshavyanka project at the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg.

Construction of a submarine at the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg. Source: company website

This shipyard is a major buyer of components from the private sector. Shipbuilding steels are supplied to the Admiralty Shipyards by Alexei Mordashov’s Severstal and Viktor Rashnikov’s Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works. Titanium products are supplied by Mikhail Shelkov’s VSMPO-AVISMA. Billionaire Evgeny Zubitsky’s company Polema supplies nickel anodes, which are used in nickel-plating parts. Diesel generators come from the Kolomna plant, part of Transmashholding, which is owned by Iskander Makhmudov and Andrei Bokarev. Electrical and radar equipment comes from the enterprises of Yevtushenkov’s AFK Sistema. The plant is insured by Sogaz, whose shareholders include Yuri Kovalchuk and Putin’s nephew Mikhail Shelomov.

Of all those named, only one — Alexei Mordashov — has spoken out about the war, and even then only after he was sanctioned by the European Union. In his commentary from February 28, 2022, relayed to Forbes through a spokesman, Mordashov called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a tragedy of two brotherly peoples” and assured that he kept away from politics and “spent his entire life building up economic value for the companies he worked for in Russia and abroad.” “I have absolutely nothing to do with the emergence of the current geopolitical tensions. I do not understand why sanctions have been imposed on me,” the oligarch said.

In the past, Mordashov eagerly supported all of Putin’s important projects with money , but his attempts to distance himself from the war are understandable, as the sanctions have caused the businessman to lose a record $8.2 billion in net worth , a villa in Sardinia and his favorite 65-meter yacht Lady M worth $27 million.

However, by the summer of 2022, Mordashov “came to his senses” and said at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum that “it is necessary to take advantage of the impetus to start developing the economy”. Putin noted that and encouraged the return of the “prodigal son”: in August 2022, the president awarded Mordashov with the Order of Friendship. Another prominent defense industry supplier, billionaire Viktor Rashnikov, received the title of Hero of Labor from Putin in 2022.

In truth, both Mordashov, Rashnikov, and the other people listed above have long been closely cooperating with the military-industrial complex in various industries and in the production of a very wide range of weapons, which you can find in all the criminal episodes cited in this article.

Now let’s talk about the ships. The Admiral Makarov frigate, as well as the similar Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen frigates, appeared in the Black Sea after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. They were manufactured by the Yantar shipyard in Kaliningrad. It mostly has the same suppliers as Admiralty Shipyards, with only Andrei Komarov and Dmitry Pumpyansky’s Chelyabinsk Tube Rolling Plant added to the above-mentioned list.

(In the video, launch of Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian territory by a Black Sea Fleet frigate. Source: Russian Ministry of Defense)

Buyan-M small missile ships are produced by the Zelenodolsk Shipyard. Construction of all four units in the Black Sea Fleet — Graivoron, Ingushetia, Orekhovo-Zuevo and Vyshny Volochek — began in 2013-2015. Power units for the ships are supplied by the Kolomna plant, which is part of Transmashholding owned by Makhmudov and Bokarev. Both businessmen have not been sanctioned by the EU, their business in Latvia continues to operate.

Kalibr missiles are also carried by patrol ships. In total, 18 combat units of the Black Sea Fleet are armed with these missiles. Since February 24, 2022, Russia has carried out at least 50 missile attacks with the use of Kalibr missiles . In 1/3 of the cases, the missiles hit residential buildings and civilian infrastructure. The worst in terms of the number of casualties were the already discussed attack on Vinnytsia and the attack on Kharkiv on March 1, 2022, when a missile hit the city administration building, killing 29 people and injuring dozens.

Kalibr missiles are manufactured by the Novator Experimental Design Bureau in Yekaterinburg, while their warheads are made by the Snegirev Research Technological Institute in Balashikha near Moscow.

Kalibr 3M-14E missile

Both enterprises actively cooperate not only with other state companies, but also with private businesses. Rocket manufacturers buy titanium from Shelkov’s VSMPO-AVISMA, aluminum from Vekselberg’s Kamensk-Uralsky Metallurgical Works, rolled metal from one of the plants that is part of Rashnikov’s Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Plant, and fuel from one of the subsidiaries of Vagit Alekperov’s Lukoil.

Like Mordashov, Alekperov indirectly spoke out about the war at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For this he received… an order from Putin’s hands. In March 2022, a press release appeared on Lukoil’s website, in which the board of directors, which at the time included Alekperov, expressed “concern over the ongoing tragic events in Ukraine and deepest sympathy to all those affected by this tragedy,” and called for an end to the “armed conflict” and negotiations. In April, Alekperov left all his posts at Lukoil because of the UK’s personal sanctions. A month later, Putin awarded him the Order “For Merit to the Fatherland” I class.

Technodinamika Holding, which includes the Snegirev Research Technological Institute producing Kalibr warheads, also uses the services of Kaspersky Lab, owned by Eugene Kaspersky (No. 101 on the Forbes list). For example, in 2017, Kaspersky’s company conducted a study of the “unauthorized hacking threat model” commissioned by Technodinamika. At the very beginning of the war, Eugene Kaspersky made a pacifist statement on social media: “War has never done anyone any good. We are as shocked as the rest of the world.” Only Ukraine has imposed personal sanctions against Kaspersky.

Communications to the defense companies producing the Kalibras are provided by Yevtushenkov’s MTS and Megafon, which is part of Usmanov’s USM Holdings, whose shareholders also include Forbes list members Ivan Streshinsky and Andrei Skoch. USM is engaged not only in communications, but also in metal. Metalloinvest, which is part of the holding, supplies rolled steel and metal billets to the defense industry.

Interestingly, all three USM shareholders reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in different ways. Streshinsky did not make any public statements about the war, and after being sanctioned, left the boards of directors of USM Holding, Metalloinvest, Megafon, and Udokan Copper. Skoch didn’t speak about the war either, but as a State Duma member, he voted for pro-war and repressive laws, and helped the Union of Afghanistan Veterans publish a brochure for mobilized soldiers with the “rules of life in war”.

Usmanov, sitting in Tashkent, is trying to challenge the sanctions imposed on him by the European Union. In February 2023, he gave a big interview to an Italian TV channel, where he said that “the war will not benefit anyone”, but then immediately noted: “This is none of my business, I’m not a politician, I don’t want to get involved in politics”. However, the businessman does use politics to his advantage: the authorities of Uzbekistan and Hungary asked the EU to lift the restrictions on Usmanov. In January 2023, Usmanov left the board of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, saying that this was due to his retirement.

However, military censorship continues to flourish in the Kommersant newspaper owned by Usmanov. The newspaper refers to the war in Ukraine as “the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine,” and on the day of the missile strike on Vinnytsia and in the days that followed, it did not mention civilian casualties, only reporting, with reference to Margarita Simonyan’s post, that the target of the attack was the House of Officers. The attack on Vinnytsia was described in the same way in the previously mentioned RBC owned by Grigory Berezkin, but the journalists of this media outlet did add that the victims included civilians.

First mention of the missile strike on Vinnytsia on the Kommersant website on the day of the tragedy

Berezkin was hit hard by the sanctions: he was stripped of his Cypriot “golden passport” , and at least six of his chalets in Courchevel, France, and real estate in Italy were seized. Berezkin attempted to challenge the sanctions imposed against him in European courts. Immediately after the lawsuit was filed, some Western media outlets published articles calling RBC “one of the last independent media outlets in Russia” that “cover the war in an objective and unbiased manner.” The simultaneous appearance of columns containing the same wording suggests that they may have been planted.

Lenta.ru, another important element of Kremlin propaganda, not only provided the official version of the Russian Defense Ministry, but also listed the names of the AFU officers killed in Vinnytsia, without even a word about the civilian casualties of the attack. This media is part of the Rambler& Co. holding. Until October 2020, the holding was owned by Alexander Mamut , who had a personal hand in turning Lenta into a Kremlin mouthpiece. In 2014, Mamut fired Lenta’s editor-in-chief, Galina Timchenko. Together with her, several dozen journalists who disagreed with the censorship left the media outlet.

One of the key propaganda TV channels, Channel One, part of the National Media Group, ignored the shelling of Vinnitsa on July 14, 2022. The next day it aired an exculpatory story titled “Legitimate Target. Kalibrs in action,” which claimed that the missile strikes were exclusively aimed at military targets. One of the founders of National Media Group was Alexei Mordashov, and its shareholders include Yuri Kovalchuk and Surgutneftegaz co-owner Vladimir Bogdanov.

Episode 3

Murder of Mikhail Grebenetsky and hundreds of other civilians in Mariupol Drama Theater


Natalia and Mikhail Grebenetsky were born in Volnovakha, a Donbass town that had been considered frontline and troubled since 2014. When the Russian army began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Grebenetskys left to join their son Yevgeny in Mariupol. It seemed to them that it would be safer in a big city.

At first the family lived in Yevgeny’s apartment in the Left Bank district , on the seventh floor of an ordinary apartment building with a view of the city. Every day Natalia and Yevgeniy could see from their window how neighboring buildings were exploding and Russian warplanes were flying over the rooftop.

Natalia Grebenetskaya with her son Yevgeny. Source: Radio Liberty

March 5 was a quiet day. The Grebenetskys decided to leave the city and got into a car, but it broke down. They only managed to get to the Drama Theater, where the local authorities offered civilians to take shelter from the bombing while waiting for an organized evacuation. The family lived in the Drama Theater for 11 days.

All this time the residents of Mariupol were flowing to the theater in a continuous stream — dozens and hundreds of people a day. As one of the refugees, Maria Kutnyakova, who came to the theater with her mother and sister in the early morning of March 16, recalled , there were so many people that they only managed to find a couple of square meters to sit down on the balcony of the third floor. Associated Press journalists estimated that in total, about a thousand civilians, including pregnant women , which had been bombed the day before) and children, were inside the building. To warn the Russian pilots, a few days before the tragedy, two huge “CHILDREN” signs were painted on the asphalt outside the theater, which were visible even from a satellite.

Satellite image showing the “CHILDREN” signs written outside the Drama Theater

At about 10 a.m. on March 16, two FAB-500 bombs were dropped on the theater. The explosions killed from 300 to 600 people .

Natalia and Yevgeny Grebenetsky were lucky: they survived the explosion because the ceiling in the room they were in did not collapse. Wounded and concussed, but alive, they rushed to look for Mikhail. Seeing his hands under the rubble in one of the corridors, Yevgeny began to dig out his father, but was only able to free his face — pieces of plaster began to fall from the ceiling, threatening to bury everyone. The Grebenetskys rushed out of the theater in panic along with other survivors. They were just in time — a fire soon broke out in the building, killing those who were still alive but injured or trapped under the rubble. That day, no more than 200 people made it out of the theater alive.

FAB-500 bomb

The FAB-500 is a very old aerial bomb with a high-explosive warhead, introduced into service back in the 1950s. Its main “advantage” is its enormous killing power; its disadvantage is its uncontrollability. Nevertheless, Russian pilots are professional enough to drop these bombs in clusters on large ground targets , so two such bombs could well have hit the theater at once.

Stocks of FABs have remained in army warehouses since Soviet times. But even now, Russia continues to produce them, and does so at an increased rate. In 2017, the Sverdlov Plant in the city of Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, built a 500-million-ruble automatic line for equipping FAB-500 bombs with explosives. Prior to that, such munitions were filled manually in the old-fashioned way . At the time, the opening of the assembly line was explained by the fact that significant stocks of FAB-500 bombs had been used up in Syria, and “[Russia’s] army is preparing for war.”

Components for producing explosives for the shells are supplied to the Sverdlov Plant by subsidiaries of Uralchem owned by Dmitry Mazepin and oil and gas chemical giant Sibur, whose owners include one of Putin’s best friends Gennady Timchenko (No. 6 on the Forbes list), his long-time business partner Leonid Mikhelson (No. 5), Putin’s former son-in-law Kirill Shamalov (No. 151), and, since the fall of 2021, representatives of the Tatarstan elites: Airat (No. 91) and Radik (No. 98) Shaimiev, Rustem Sulteev (No. 19), Albert Shigabutdinov (No. 110) (Shaimievs, Sulteev and Shigabutdinov are shareholders of the Sibur-RT holding company, formerly known as TAIF — Russia’s largest private company created in post-Soviet times in Tatarstan from privatized state enterprises. In the fall of 2021, before the war, part of TAIF was absorbed by Sibur, and its owners received shares in the petrochemical giant).

Mazepin is one of the Russian oligarchs who, despite the sanctions imposed against them, managed to get even richer during the war. Due to the rise in global fertilizer prices, the valuation of his net worth increased by $2 billion . It’s not surprising that he hasn’t said a word about the invasion of Ukraine. The businessman continues to ostentatiously meet with Putin and participate in Kremlin business events. At the same time, the USA and Japan have not imposed any restrictions against the oligarch at all, while Europe has eased the sanctions against Uralchem and other fertilizer producers in order to facilitate the supply of agricultural inputs to poor countries.

Sibur shareholders have said nothing about the war either. Only the website of Mikhelson-owned Novatek issued a press release in early March 2022, in which the company expressed “sincere sympathy to all those affected by these events.” At the same time, only Timchenko, whom the U.S. and Canada blacklisted back in 2014, and Shamalov, Putin’s former son-in-law, have been placed under all possible sanctions. Only certain countries imposed restrictions against the other owners of Sibur from the Forbes list, and only Ukraine sanctioned Radik Shaimiev and Rustem Sulteev.

Novatek, like Sibur, also has contracts with the Sverdlov Plant: it supplies the company with large volumes of natural gas. Apart from Mikhelson and Timchenko, Novatek’s shareholders are Leonid Simanovsky (No. 85) and Farkhad Akhmedov (No. 88).

To top it all off, Simanovsky sits in the State Duma and votes for pro-war and repressive laws. Meanwhile, his daughter lives in Switzerland and works for a subsidiary of Novatek.

Sergei Shoigu inspecting the production of the FAB-500 bombs at the Sverdlov Plant. April 6, 2023. Source: Russian Ministry of Defense

The Sverdlov plant also buys aluminum powder from Rusal owned by Oleg Deripaska (No. 37) and Viktor Vekselberg (No. 20), and components from the Scientific Research Institute of Steel, which is partly owned by the structures of Vladimir Yevtushenkov (No. 41).

In early March 2022, Deripaska wrote: “Peace is very important! Dragging out the negotiations is madness.” After that, he made many other public statements mentioning the war, but it is impossible to understand his attitude towards the conflict from these words. In the summer of 2022, he said that “to destroy Ukraine would be a colossal mistake,” but then immediately doubted the possibility of a change of power in Russia because there were “no economic prerequisites for it.” Following the assassination of propagandist Daria Dugina in 2022, Deripaska accused the world of an “outrageous level of lies and provocations.”

Finally, another supplier of the manufacturer of the FAB aerial bombs is the Degtyarev Weapons Factory owned by Igor Kesaev (No. 35), which we have mentioned several times in the previous episodes.

The FAB-500 bombs produced by the Sverdlov Plant are widely used in Ukraine and have already caused the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. They are compatible with virtually all types of Russian military aircraft, but experts consider Sukhoi Su-25, Su-30, and Su-34 attack aircraft to be the most likely means of delivering the bombs to the place where they were dropped over the Mariupol Drama Theater. Although the Ukrainian army repeatedly shot down these planes and captured their pilots, they felt at ease in the skies above Ukraine, because a significant part of the Ukrainian air defense was destroyed or disoriented in the first days of the war.

Unexploded bomb in Kharkiv. March 4, 2022. Source: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

By the spring of 2023, thanks in part to Western arms supplies, it had become much more dangerous for Russian aircraft to fly over Ukraine. That’s when Russian designers learned how to turn the FAB-500 from an unguided bomb into a guided one. They developed special control and gliding modules for it, making it possible to launch FABs from a distance of 40-50 kilometers from the target, beyond the reach of Ukrainian air defenses.

In fact, such modules started to be developed in Russia back in the mid-noughties. This is being done by the Moscow-based NPO Bazalt, which is part of Rostec State Corporation. This enterprise also buys the necessary materials from people on the Forbes list. Steel pipes are supplied to it by the Chelyabinsk Tube Rolling Plant, whose major shareholder until 2021 was Andrei Komarov.

Bazalt’s government procurement portfolio also includes contracts with the Technonicol company of Sergei Kolesnikov (No. 69) and Igor Rybakov (No. 70). They supplied the company with waterproofing film, most likely for the repair of production facilities. Judging by the financial statements, Technonicol’s business in Russia has only benefited from the sanctions, because after the withdrawal of Western suppliers of building materials from the market, the company’s net profit increased by 55 times in 2022.

Kolesnikov and Rybakov are only sanctioned by Ukraine, and their international business in Belarus, Lithuania, Italy, Poland and the UK continues to operate, albeit with some difficulties.

Kolesnikov and Rybakov did not speak out about the war. Only at the very beginning of the invasion, Rybakov posted a video on his Youtube channel in which he noted that “the point of no return has been passed and it will be a big story that will affect the lives of millions of people.” The video was later deleted.