May 21, 2018
Last week we—Russian and US experts and activists—learned that an off-the-record roundtable dinner with Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, principals of the Alfa Group, will be held on May 21 at the Atlantic Council. These Kremlin regime insiders are both listed on the January update of the US government list “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) but are nevertheless invited to discuss “the outlook for the Russian economy in an era of escalating sanctions” in Washington DC.

While some people in the CAATSA report were sanctioned, Aven and Fridman so far have not been. However, we believe through our analysis of open-source data that oligarchs from Alfa Group are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs and we have no doubt that these people remain under consideration for sanctions.

We registered our concern with the organizers of this meeting and, to its credit, the Atlantic Council proposed that we publish this note of protest on its website, for which we are grateful.

We remain extremely critical of the format of the meeting that the Atlantic Council chose. In our view, a major US think tank can in principle hold an event with oligarchs—after all, a conversation is possible even with one’s adversaries. However, the meeting should take place only on the condition that the oligarchs do not get to select the audience along with a friendly moderator—and that critical questions can be asked.

Therefore, we want to appeal to the participants of the dinner who were invited and urge them to ask some of these vital questions. We believe there is plenty of open-source and reliable information clearly demonstrating that these oligarchs are neither “private” nor “independent businessmen” as they try to present themselves in various Western venues, but are in fact close associates of Putin’s.

It is in this particular capacity that we believe they arrived in the US capital to try to affect US sanctions policy. The US Treasury’s April 6 decision to freeze all assets subject to US jurisdiction of twenty-four Kremlin-connected oligarchs and officials was the first truly painful measure against Putin and his inner circle. In our view, the mission of Aven and Fridman is to prevent additional such actions in the future. Invited participants at the dinner should clearly comprehend the true objectives of these two oligarchic emissaries.

A select list of Alfa’s connections to the regime, and personally to Putin, can be found at this link with references to verifiable English and Russian sources. In our view, all of the listed points about such connections suggest strongly that Aven, Fridman, and other key Alfa Bank oligarchs are indeed close cronies and insiders of Putin’s regime, and do not operate independently of Putin’s demands.

In fact, some of the key criteria for inclusion of oligarchs under CAATSA are their proximity to Putin’s inner circle and involvement in the operations of the regime—two conditions that, in our view, Aven and Fridman wholly fulfill. We urge the participants of the event on May 21 to use open-source material and query the oligarchs about various aspects of their cooperation with Putin, his circle, and the Russian security services since 1992.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, head of Underminers.info, research project on post-Soviet oligarchs and their subversive influence in the West, Academy Associate, Chatham House;

Andrei Piontkovsky, visiting fellow, Hudson Institute;

Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, writer, and political activist;

Dmitry Valuev and Nadezhda Valuev, contributors to Underminers.info project;

Roman Borisovich, committee secretary, the Committee for Legislation Against Money Laundering in Properties by Kleptocrats (ClampK);

Tanja Nyberg, Magnitsky Act Initiative;

Yuri Rashkin, Rock County supervisor (District 15), academic staff UW-Whitewater;

Leonid Martynyuk, video producer, journalist, co-author with Boris Nemtsov of the report “Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics: Corruption and Abuse in Sochi”;

Dmitry Dubrovskiy, historian, human rights activist; lecturer, Harriman Institute, Columbia University (2015-17);

Ivan Tyutrin, executive secretary, Free Russia Forum;

Sarah Chayes, author of “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security”;

Konstantin Rubakhin, Save Khoper movement, anti-corruption activist.

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