Roman Abramovich is Russia’s most recognizable oligarch.He’s come to the forefront in recent weeks for his role in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.Here Insider charts his rise from college dropout to billionaire oligarch and wartime peace envoy.Sign up for our weekday newsletter, packed with original analysis, news, and trends — delivered right Roman Abramovich’s career in business had inauspicious beginnings.The college dropout and former Red Army conscript started out trading rubber ducks , car tires, and dolls, having moved on from a short stint working as a mechanic .
But Abramovich soon found himself in the right place at the right time.It was the late 1980s, and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was seeking to transfer power from the dusty state-run corporations of old to the private sector, through the “perestroika” reforms that would transform the country’s economy and political machinery.
Abramovich pounced on the opportunity and ultimately became one of Russia’s richest oligarchs, worth an estimated $14 billion today.
He once told The Guardian that money “cannot buy you happiness,” though he noted that it can get you “some independence.”
Abramovich is Russia’s most recognizable oligarch, in large part because he’s owned Chelsea Football Club, a top-flight London soccer team, for nearly two decades.
He’s also recognised for his extravagance.
He amassed a UK property portfolio, including vast mansions in the exclusive London neighborhood of Kensington, worth an estimated 250 million pounds, or about $325 million.He owns two of the world’s most expensive superyachts: the $600 million Solaris and the $700 million Eclipse.
He has several private jets, including a Gulfstream , as well as a helicopter and a number of luxury cars .
Abramovich has contended that his story is “uniquely Russian.”
Of late, Abramovich’s public profile has been enhanced further by two occurrences.First, he was sanctioned by the European Union and the UK in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.Second, he acted as something of an envoy in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine — which brought him some positive press while Western officials were seizing his trophy assets.
These occurrences encapsulated the confused thinking around Abramovich.Is he one of the good guys — a regular Russian who made it big? Or is he one of the bad guys — a run-of-the-mill businessman who got lucky with perestroika and was then only too happy to cozy up to Vladimir Putin?
Beginnings Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich was born in Saratov , a port on the Volga River in southwest Russia, on October 24, 1966.He was orphaned at the age of 2 when his mother died of blood poisoning and his father was killed in a construction-crane accident.Abramovich spent much of his childhood living with his uncle in Komi, in northern Russia.
“To tell the truth, I cannot call my childhood bad,” Abramovich told The Guardian in 2006.
“In your childhood you can’t compare things: One eats carrots, one eats candy, both taste good.
As a child, you cannot tell the difference.”
He is of Russian-Jewish origin, and the UK says he’s a citizen of Russia, Portugal, and Israel.He’s thought to have married and divorced three times and have fathered seven children.He doesn’t give many interviews.
Outside of business, in the 2000s, he served as governor of Chukotka, a deprived area in eastern Russia.
He spent eight years there bankrolling schools and hospitals with his own money and set up a charity that took Chukotka’s children on annual vacations.He made a $30 million donation to Tel Aviv University, which it used to build the Roman Abramovich Building for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.
He’s the second-largest donor to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.
His big break in business came in 1995, when he bought Sibneft, a Russian state-owned energy company, for about $250 million.The auction for Sibneft was almost certainly rigged in Abramovich’s favor.Ten years later, he sold Sibneft to Gazprom, another Russian state-owned energy group, for nearly $13 billion — an investment gain of about 5,000%.
This triggered an acrimonious court battle with his former business partner, Boris Berezovsky, an exiled Russian oligarch.Berezovsky sued Abramovich in the UK for intimidating him into selling his Sibneft stock in 2001 for a “fraction” of its true value.
But the court ruled in favor of Abramovich in 2012, with the judge saying she found Abramovich “a truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness.”
Abramovich’s lawyers have described claims that he amassed his wealth through crime as baseless.Yet in 2012, Abramovich admitted to a UK court that he made some corrupt payments in the run-up to the Sibneft deal.
Berezovsky was found dead at his home in Ascot, England, in March 2013.Amid claims of foul play, possibly by the Kremlin, a UK coroner ultimately concluded he was unable to say whether the oligarch had killed himself.
With the Sibneft meg-deal done, Abramovich went on to found multiple petroleum-trading companies and acquired holdings in Norilsk Nickel and Evraz , an industrial conglomerate.Trading in both companies was suspended by the London Stock Exchange after Russia invaded Ukraine.
In 2003, Abramovich sold a 25% stake in the aluminum company Rusal to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska for $1.9 billion.
That year Abramovich also bought Chelsea FC, for about $190 million .
“I don’t look at this as a financial investment,” he told the Financial Times at the time.”I look at it as a hobby.”
In a later interview with Forbes , he said: “In hindsight, especially with the public profile it would bring me, maybe I would have thought differently about owning a club.”
War In early March, shortly after the start of the Ukraine war, Abramovich announced plans to sell Chelsea FC for a rumored $2.5 billion.
Western officials say Abramovich has long enjoyed close ties to Putin, who in 2000 succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s president.
Indeed, EU officials say Abramovich has “privileged access to the president, and has maintained very good relations with him.” British officials describe Abramovich as a “pro-Kremlin oligarch” who’s had “a close relationship for decades” with Putin.
They say Abramovich and his businesses have received “preferential treatment and concessions” from Putin, including tax breaks, favorable rates when buying and selling shares in state-owned companies, and grants linked to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which was held in Russia.
Abramovich has repeatedly denied being financially linked with Putin or having close personal ties with the Russian president.
In recent weeks, Abramovich was photographed at peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and has reportedly traveled across Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Israel, and Turkey to meet with officials, sometimes in hotel rooms.Abramovich reportedly met with Putin in late March, where he is said to have delivered a note from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy seeking peace.
Yet Abramovich’s remit as peace envoy — if that indeed is what he is — hasn’t been precisely determined.Both Russia and Ukraine have said Abramovich isn’t an official member of their negotiation teams, and he’s appeared to have sat with observers at talks.
But his role as middleman appears to have bought him time with the US.Washington officials told The Wall Street Journal that the US dropped plans to sanction Abramovich after Zelenskyy told Joe Biden that Abramovich could be useful in Russia-Ukraine peace talks.
“Roman Abramovich is involved in enabling certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides,” the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in late March.Zelenskyy has said that Abramovich has tried to assist Ukraine with peace talks.
Whatever his role, the former rubber-duck trader has enjoyed quite the rise.What remains to be seen is whether the West will strip him of his great wealth, however earned, and bring about his downfall.