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Russia's Megarich Are Losing Billions in Putin's War

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Alisher Usmanov on Oct. 29, 2013, in Moscow

Photograph by Alexei Nikolsky/Presidential Press Service via AP Photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Alisher Usmanov on Oct. 29, 2013, in Moscow

Vladimir Putin’s pursuit of war in the Ukraine has cost Russian billionaires dearly, a sinkhole that has deepened since the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in pro-Russian territory last week. Of the 20 Russians included in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, 14 have lost money this year, led by Alisher Usmanov and Vladimir Lisin, each of whom is down $2.8 billion.

As a group, the Russians have together lost more than $16 billion, or 7 percent of their total wealth. That compares with big gains by billionaires in Brazil, India, and China since Jan. 1:

America’s top 20 plutocrats, by comparison, have gained $29 billion this year.

American sanctions against Russian businesses—and the possibility of further penalties in the wake of the jet disaster, which killed 298 passengers and crew—have hobbled the country’s stock market. The Micex Index has returned negative 5.5 percent this year, compared with a 9.8 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, as measured in dollars.

“The market is sending a signal that Russia should avoid becoming an outcast and avoid shutting itself out of global markets,” Aleksei Belkin, chief investment officer of Moscow’s Kapital Asset Management, told Bloomberg News in an e-mail. “[Putin] believes that what he is doing is justified and he is very much aware that he is not facing a united opposition in Ukraine. But it’s getting costlier with every month.”

Russia’s wealthiest businessmen are “increasingly frantic” that Putin’s war will cause further damage to the economy but are “too scared of reprisal” to criticize his regime publicly, Bloomberg reported on July 21. Putin has been able to keep his billionaires at bay since the start of the crisis.

Nick Summers covers Wall Street and finance for Bloomberg Businessweek. Twitter: @nicksummers.

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