Putin’s Ukraine Subdual Spurs Jewish Tycoons To Pursue Refuge, Review Hebrew
Among the unexpected effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Dozens of powerful Russian tycoons, popularly known as “oligarchs,” are seeking ways to keep their assets liquid and continue doing business while avoiding the harsh sanctions that the West has applied to Russia. The oligarchs have been particularly targeted because of their close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – the only way to do large-scale business and accumulate great wealth in Putin’s Russia is by politically and financially supporting the president, who in turn provides protection for the oligarchs and settles disputes between rival factions. Oligarchs who fall out of favor with the Kremlin can find themselves in jail – or worse.
Several dozen oligarchs who are Jewish have purchased property in Israel and some have taken Israeli citizenship in recent years. Now many are reportedly brushing up on their Hebrew language skills as they seek a safe haven for themselves, their families, and their significant assets in the Jewish state. The Israeli government has been forced to face a difficult dilemma: How to deal with the Jewish oligarchs without appearing to circumvent the sanctions that have been slapped on Putin’s regime by Israel’s allies – particularly the United States.
The Israeli media has reported on private jets belonging to several oligarchs arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport in recent days.
At least four of the Russian Jewish oligarchs – Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and Viktor Vekselberg – have been explicitly named as targets of international sanctions due to their close connections to the Russian president.
The Israeli government has so far maintained enough neutrality in the conflict that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been able to act as a mediator between Moscow and Kyiv, and Jerusalem has been suggested as a venue for peace negotiations between the sides. But pressure is mounting for Israel to join in the sanctions imposed by the US, UK, EU and others.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, set to succeed Bennett as prime minister in August 2023, has reportedly advised his colleagues in the government to avoid close ties with the oligarchs. “You have to be very careful because those guys have connections and they can call you on the phone and ask you for things,” Lapid recently told the cabinet. “Don’t commit to anything because it could cause diplomatic damage. Say you can’t help them and give them the number of the Foreign Ministry.”