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Leonid Bershidsky

What 'Oligarchs Close to Putin' Really Means

Some wealthy Russians are as close to the president as hostages to their taker.

Always looking over his shoulder.

Always looking over his shoulder.

Photograph: Epsilon/Getty Images Europe

Thanks to Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti, the cliche “Russian oligarch close (or ‘closely linked’) to Vladimir Putin” is making the rounds again. A word of warning: Many wealthy Russians’ closeness to Putin is not at all what it seems. Viktor Vekselberg, whose name came up in Avenatti’s revelations, is a case in point.

The latest story of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen allegedly taking payments from companies seeking an insight into the administration should stand on its merits, not on a tenuous “Putin connection.” Russian hierarchies aren’t straightforward.