Biography Philanthropists

Vladimir Potanin

Vladimir Potanin
vladimir POTANIN

Vladimir Potanin in 2003
Born Vladimir Olegovich Potanin
3 January 1961 (age 57)
Moscow, Russia
Residence Moscow
Citizenship Russian
Alma mater Moscow State Institute of International Relations(MGIMO) with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Occupation Chairman of Interros
Net worth Steady US$ 15.9 billion (2018Forbes list)[1]
Spouse(s) Yekaterina Potanina
First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia
In office
14 August 1996 – 17 March 1997
Served alongside Viktor Ilyushin and Alexey Bolshakov
President Boris Yeltsin
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin
Preceded by Oleg Lobov
Succeeded by Anatoly Chubais
Boris Nemtsov
Website Interros website

Vladimir Olegovich Potanin (Владимир Олегович Потанин in Russian; born 3 January 1961) is a Russian billionaire, entrepreneur and oligarch.[2]He acquired his wealth notably through the controversial loans-for-shares program in Russia in the early to mid-1990s.[3]

He is one of the wealthiest men in Russia,[1] with an estimated net worth of $15.9 billion, ranking 83rd on the 2018 Forbes The World’s Billionaires list, and 6th in Russia.[4] His long-term business partner was Mikhail Prokhorov until they decided to split in 2007. Subsequently, they put their mutual assets in a holding company, Folletina Trading, until their asset division was agreed upon.[5]

In January 2018, Potanin appeared on the US Treasury’s “Putin list” of 210 individuals closely associated with Russian president Vladimir Putin.[6][7]

In July 2018, FBI announced that in 2015 Potanin purchased Maryland’s state voter registration platform, without state officials knowing[8].

Early life and education[edit]

Potanin was born in Moscow, in the former USSR, into a high-ranking communist family.[9] In 1978, he attended the faculty of the International economic relations at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), which groomed students for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Upon graduating MGIMO in 1983, he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to work for the FTO “Soyuzpromexport” with the Ministry of Foreign trade of the Soviet Union.[10]


Beginnings (1991–1998)[edit]

During perestroika, Vladimir Potanin quit the State’s structures of Foreign trade and in 1991 created the private association Interros using his knowledge gathered at Ministry of Foreign trade and his previous professional network. In 1993, Potanin became President of United Export Import Bank.[11]

In 1995, Potanin was instrumental in the creation of the “loans for shares” auctions that became a fundamental pillar of Russia’s post-Soviet economic reform.[12] The auctions allowed the selling-off of Russian firms’ assets at below market prices and are regarded as the founding moment of Russia’s oligarchy.[13][14] According to the New York Times, the auctions plan is “Regarded today almost universally as an act of colossal criminality.”[12]

From 14 August 1996 until 17 March 1997 he worked as First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Since August 1998, Potanin has held the positions of both President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Interros Company.[15]

Norilsk Nickel[edit]

Potanin and his long-term business partner Mikhail Prokhorov acquired Norilsk Nickel in the early 1990s under the “loans for shares” scheme, owning between them 54% of the firm.[16] They streamlined operations and turned Norilsk Nickel into a modern corporation.[16]

Dispute with Mikhail Prokhorov[edit]

In 2007, Potanin split with Prokhorov, citing Prokhorov’s brief detention by French police over soliciting prostitution as the reason and announced the intent to acquire Prokhorov’s Norilsk Nickel assets for a reported $1 billion.[17] Prokhorov offered to sell his 25 percent stake for $15 billion.[16] However, Potanin refused the deal and it never came to pass.[16][18]

According to a report published by investigative platform Meduza in 2016, Prokhorov turned to Valentin Yumashev, former Russian president Boris Yeltsin‘s chief of staff, to appeal to president Vladimir Putin. Reportedly, Putin “phoned Potanin in Prokhorov’s presence and chewed him out, saying, ‘It’s dishonest to cheat on partners.'”[19] Prokhorov ultimately decided to sell his 25 percent Norilsk stake to RUSAL‘s Oleg Deripaska instead.[18]

In March 2009, he sued former business partner Mikhail Prokhorov for $29 million over a property disagreement in Moscow.[20]

Ownership dispute with Deripaska[edit]

In 2008, Deripaska reached an agreement with Prokhorov for the acquisition of his Norilsk Nickel stake, against Potanin’s wishes. In return, Prokhorov acquired 14 percent of RUSAL.[21]

This sparked an ownership conflict between Deripaska and Potanin that was halted in 2012, when Roman Abramovich stepped in as a peacemaker by acquiring 6.5 percent of Norilsk and thereby maintaining the balance of power between Deripaska and Potanin.[22] The truce also barred the parties to sell or acquire new stakes. The deal made Potanin CEO of the company, as he owned roughly 30 percent of Norilsk, about 2 percent more than Deripaska.[23][24]

In February 2018, Potanin offered to buy 4 percent of Abramovich’s stake.[25] A provisional acquisition agreement was reached in March for Potanin to buy a 2 percent stake in Norilsk from Abramovich.[26] The purchase is not yet officially approved, pending a court ruling in May that will decide whether the acquisition is breaching the 2012 stakeholder agreement.[26][27] If the purchase is approved, Potanin would own 32.9 percent of Norilsk against Deripaska’s 27.8 percent.[26]

Environmental pollution[edit]

Throughout Potanin’s tenure as CEO, Norilsk Nickel has been consistently criticized for its environmental record. The company was named as one of the biggest polluters in the Russian Arctic,[28]and the city of Norilsk was named among the most polluted places on Earth.[29] According to a 2013 report, Norilsk Nickel’s operations “discharge some 500 tons of copper and nickel oxides per year and release another 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere annually”, accounting for a life expectancy of local residents 10 years below the Russian national average.[29][30]According to reports from journalists who visited the city, Norilsk is surrounded by “1.2 million acres of dead forest”,[31] or that “nature in a radius almost the size of Germany is dead from severe air pollution”,[30] depending on the source.

As a result, pressure has been mounting on Potanin from Russian president Vladimir Putin to clean up Norilsk Nickel’s operations. In 2010, Putin stated that solving ecological problems in the Norilsk area must be one of the company’s leadership’s main tasks.[32]

In September 2016, the local Daldykan river ran red after a suspected break of a Norilsk Nickel slurry pipe released industrial waste into the water.[33] Norilsk Nickel was subsequently fined an undisclosed amount by the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (ru) (Rosprirodnadzor).[34]

During a meeting with Putin in January 2017, Potanin promised to solve environmental problems by 2023 through the modernization of capacities.[28] Briefing Putin on Norilsk Nickel’s development and performance, Potanin promised to invest $17 billion over a seven-year period on measures to modernize the company’s facilities and reduce pollution from its operations.[13] Potanin said that the company planned to reduce its emissions by 75% as part of its long-term development programme through 2023.[14] In the Norilsk area, emissions were reduced by 30-35% in 2017 alone, according to company data.[35] However, another $2 billion environmental clean-up project is supposedly still outstanding.[36]

Other investments[edit]

Potanin also owns a stake in Petrovax Pharm, a pharmaceutical company.[37]

Rosa Khutor ski resort[edit]

Potanin was inspired to develop the Rosa Khutor ski resort in the Mzymta valley near Sochi after skiing with Putin in Austria in 2003.[38] He invested more than $2 billion into the resort after Sochi was picked for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in 2007.[38][39]

He allegedly urged Vladimir Putin to approve expansion in the area to create a “Russian Courchevel“, despite oppositional pressure from environmental groups who claimed it would further damage the region.[40]

Following Potanin’s complaint about a cost overrun of at least $530 million during the construction of hotels and chalets in Sochi and the Rosa Khutor ski resort (as required by the International Olympic Committee), Potanin sought compensation from the Russian government for the extra costs incurred.[40][41]

It was later shown that construction of the Rosa Khutor resort had resulted in a vast patch of forest being cut down, although Potanin had announced that construction would require “little excavation and zero logging.”[42] This was strongly criticized by environmental conservation groups, such as Environmental Watch on North Caucasus.[43][44]

Between 2005 and 2010 Potanin invested $500,000 in starting a leopard breeding initiative in the valley. In 2015 he asked Putin to allow for permits to double the size of the ski resort, an expansion that will threaten the leopard program he contributed to.[45][46]


Potanin became the first major Russian investor to acquire assets in Iran after the sanctions against the country over its missile program were lifted in 2016.[47] Through his investment fund New Winter Capital Partners (NWCP), he bought shares of Swedish firm Pomegranate, which is a shareholder in a number of Iranian internet companies, such as Digikala, the country’s largest online retailer.[48] The investment in Digikala was estimated to be $300 million.[49]


In May 2015 Potatin was named a co-defendant in a case in which state-owned Vneshekonombank (VEB) was looking for damages for losses from the liquidation of Roskhlebprodukt, in which he indirectly owned a stake. In total, VEB sought $68 million in damages from Potanin and others.[50]

Honorary engagements and awards[edit]

Potanin is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York.[51]

In March 2003, he took charge of the National Council on Corporate Governance (NSKU), whose main goal is to improve the legislative regulations in Russia and to introduce professional and ethical standards of corporate governance in Russian companies. The goal is to boost the reputation and investment appeal of the Russian businesses.[52]

In April 2003, Potanin was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the State Hermitage, the most renowned Russian art museum.[53]

He was a member of the Civic Chamber of Russia until 2014.[54]

In 2016, Potanin’s charitable organization, the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, donated works of art to be displayed at the Centre Pompidou‘s exhibition of Russian and Soviet art [55] along with another 40 donors including Vladimir Semenikhin, the Tsukanov Family Foundation and others.[56] For his efforts, Potanin was awarded the French Legion of Honour later that year.[57]

Personal life[edit]

Vladmir Potanin’s first marriage was to Natalia Potanina, with whom he has three children.[58] In 2014, Potanin got married a second time, to Ekaterina. Potanin is fluent in Russian, English, and French.

He is the owner of three luxury motor yachts built by Oceanco:

  • The 89 m (292 ft) Barbara, built in 2016.
  • The 88.5 m (290 ft) Nirvana, built in 2012.
  • The 76 m (249 ft) Anastasia, built in 2008.

Divorce procedures with Natalia Potanina[edit]

In 2016, Natalia Potanina filed a $15 billion lawsuit claiming profits of Norilsk Nickel as well as Interros International, in what would have been the world’s largest divorce settlement.[59] A Moscow district court rejected her claim in July 2017, arguing that the lawsuit’s limitation period had expired.[60]

The claim was preceded by a smaller claim of $7 billion in 2015, after Potanin had offered a divorce settlement including a monthly allowance of $250,000 as well as real estate in Moscow, Londonand New York.[61] The claim was struck down in 2016.[60] Natalia argued that Russian law demands that wealth accumulated during a marriage is split evenly between the divorcees.[61]

See also[edit]


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  28. Jump up to:a b “Potanin tells Putin he will make nickel industry greater, cleaner”The Independent Barents Observer. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  29. Jump up to:a b “Russia boasts two of 10 most polluted cities on Earth in 2013 tally –” 2013-11-07. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  30. Jump up to:a b Buder, Emily. “A Toxic, Closed-Off City on the Edge of the World”The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
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  33. Jump up^ Luhn, Alec (2016-09-07). “Investigation ordered as Russian river turns red”The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
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  54. Jump up^ “OPRF – Council (2012–2014)” Retrieved 2018-03-26.
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  56. Jump up^ “Potanin joins art collectors in donating art works to Pompidou”.
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  58. Jump up^ Harding, Luke (2016-06-20). “‘I’m hoping for justice’: former wife of Russian oligarch fights for £5bn”the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  59. Jump up^ “Natalia Potanina tells us what it’s like fighting one of Russia’s richest men — a friend of Putin — for the world’s largest divorce settlement”Business Insider France (in French). Retrieved 2018-03-26.
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