Private Russian Companies Avoid Sanctions Sending Troops to Ukraine in Secret



A group of Russian billionaires have reportedly been using their companies—some of which have dodged Western sanctions—to funnel mercenaries to the regular Russian army for the war against Ukraine.

That’s according to a new investigation by the independent outlet iStories, which reports that companies under the control of several Vladimir Putin cronies are taking part in the alleged covert recruitment scheme.

Oleg Deripaska, the sanctioned tycoon and Putin confidante who made headlines at the start of the full-scale invasion for appearing to speak out against it, is allegedly at the center of one such scheme. According to iStories, a company owned by Deripaska’s Rusal–Russia’s largest aluminum producer–is bankrolling a volunteer battalion called Sokol. The battalion is officially considered a part of the Russian military, but financial compensation for the “volunteers” comes from both the Defense Ministry and a mysterious “sponsor.”

“We first give employment [in our company] the day before a contract is signed with the Ministry of Defense, and then we suspend the employment contract, and we have a basis for paying bonuses to our employee who went to the [war]. It’s such a scheme,” a recruiter was quoted telling iStories.

The recruiter allegedly did not specify who exactly the “sponsor” is, but the phone numbers listed on a recruitment poster belong to Rusal Management, a 100% subsidiary of Rusal, according to the report.

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Volunteers have even reportedly discussed Deripaska’s alleged involvement in private chats, with one said to have noted that “Deripaska sets up Sokol personnel in his private security companies.”

While Deripaska himself is under sanctions, Rusal was freed from sanctions in 2019 after Deripaska reduced his stake in the company. He still owns part of the company through his stake in En+ Group. Just last month, a European trade group said it had considered calling for sanctions on Russian aluminum, but “recommends avoiding” any such sanctions on Rusal due to the company’s widespread operations.

A representative for Rusal told iStories the company is not involved in recruiting volunteers and said they had no idea why the company’s phone numbers were listed for wannabe-recruits.

In addition to Rusal, the report also names Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, Novatek, as another company supplying cannon fodder for the war against Ukraine. Owned by Leonid Mikhelson and Putin pal Gennady Timchenko, the company is under U.S. sanctions that prohibit it from accessing any debt financing in the U.S. of longer than 90 days.

According to iStories, a private security company founded by Novatek and “completely dependent” on it for financing is involved in recruiting efforts. An unnamed volunteer told the outlet employees were recruited by representatives of Novatek and the security outfit Bastion right at their workplace.

Construction company Mospromstroy, owned by EU-sanctioned oligarch Mikhail Gutseriev, has also reportedly been tasked with recruiting fresh blood for the war, along with Sergei Gordeev’s PIK Group.

As Moscow’s fledgling war machine trudges on, myriad reports have emerged of state-owned Russian companies being tasked with supplying fresh recruits, who are first set up with fictitious jobs before being sent to the battlefield.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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