Yuri Milner, Facebook’s first investor, renounces Russian citizenship
The Silicon Valley bigwig known for his investments in Twitter, Spotify and Airbnb is still trying to distance himself from Russia. He’s not the only billionaire to do so.
On Monday afternoon, billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner announcement on Twitter that he and his family “completed the process of renouncing our Russian citizenship” this summer. He added that they had “left Russia for good” after Crimea was annexed in 2014.
Milner, 60, a Russian-born billionaire with Israeli citizenship, lives in the United States on a special visa. He is a well-known figure in Silicon Valley, thanks to his early bets on Facebook and Twitter through his investment company, Global Daylight Saving Time, which has offices in Silicon Valley, New York, London, Beijing and Hong Kong. Milner has also backed Spotify, Airbnb and successful Chinese tech companies including Alibaba and JD.com. His fortune is estimated at $7.3 billion.
Russian money helped finance these bets. His investments in Facebook and Twitter were funded, in part, by Gazprom Investholding, a subsidiary of oil and gas giant Gazprom, and VTB Bank, according to published documents in 2017 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. United States sanctioned these two organizations in February. Alisher Usmanov, a sanctioned Russian oligarch and billionaire, managed the Gazprom subsidiary for more than a decade and partnered with Milner on the Facebook and Twitter deals, according to the ICIJ report. Usmanov was also an investor in DST’s first two funds.
In April, Milner denied Forbes that he ever acted on behalf of the Kremlin (and no evidence has ever suggested otherwise), and stated that he hadn’t taken Russian money for years. “According to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, you can only travel in time, never backwards,” he said in a statement. “So we cannot change the fact that we took funds from Russian investors from the beginning. But given that the whole world stopped taking Russian money just two months ago, our decision to do the same many years ago was apparently quite smart.
The timing of Milner’s latest announcement – following yet another vicious Russian bombing campaign in Ukrainian cities – has sparked some skepticism on social media. “[W]Why announce it today? What happened?” wrote an user.
According to a “fact sheeton his personal website, Milner “officially completed the process of renouncing his Russian citizenship” in August 2022. The process, which includes a multi-step application process, can take up to six months, according to the Russian consulate. in San Francisco. website. Milner did not respond to Forbes’ requests for comment on the timing of its announcement.
Milner is the third known Soviet-born billionaire to renounce his Russian citizenship during the war. Timur Turlov, founder of retail brokerage firm Freedom Holding, received a Kazakh passport in June, for which he had to give up his Russian citizenship. Ruben Vardanyan, who made his fortune co-founding investment firm Troika Dialog in the early 1990s, renounced his Russian citizenship in September after declaring Armenian citizenship and settling in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region between Armenia and Azerbaijan. (Unlike Milner, neither Turlov nor Vardanyan denounced the war).
Born in Moscow in 1961, Yuri Milner grew up in the Soviet Union and graduated in 1985 from Moscow State University with a degree in theoretical physics. In 1990, he became one of the first Soviet-born students to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his Russian nationality, Milner has been an Israeli citizen since 1999 and has lived in the United States since 2011, according to his website.
After the Russian invasion in February, Milner was quick to express his solidarity with Ukraine. The Breakthrough Prize Foundation, the non-profit group he co-founded and leads, sentenced the war on March 3 and announced a $3 million donation to an unnamed “international humanitarian organization.” A similar denunciation from DST Global followed, while Milner and his wife, Julia, contributed $5.5 million to Stand with Ukraine, a GoFundMe campaign launched by Ukrainian-born actress Mila Kunis and her husband, actor and venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher. In April, the Milners pledged an additional $100 million to support Ukrainian refugees through a new “Tech for Refugees” initiative, in partnership with tech companies in which Milner has invested. Milner did not respond to requests for comment on how much of that pledge has been fulfilled.
Simultaneously, Milner sought to downplay his ties to Russia. His website’s fact sheet insists that Milner has “never met Vladimir Putin, either individually or in a group” and that “97% of Yuri’s personal wealth was created outside of the Russia”. (By this logic, $219 million of Milner’s estimated $7.3 billion fortune was created in Russia). In 2020, Milner requested Forbes to list his citizenship as Israeli, rather than dual Israeli-Russian.
Of course, Milner isn’t the only billionaire to downplay his Russian origins since Putin invaded Ukraine, reflecting the social pressures of war. This year, another 8 billionaires of Soviet origin with multiple nationalities asked Forbes to erase the mention of their Russian papers. This includes Nikolay Storonsky, founder of British banking app Revolut, who holds dual British and Russian nationality; and Andrei Rappoport, who has Russian, Israeli, Cypriot and Portuguese nationality, but lives in Lugano, Switzerland, where he has a residence permit. “His wealth was not acquired during President Putin’s tenure, he is not a friend of Putin and has absolutely no contact with Putin,” a Rappoport associate said. Forbes in May by e-mail.
Certainly, many have really left their homeland. Pavel Durov, for example, was born in St. Petersburg but left Russia in 2013 after clashing with Putin’s government over censorship issues. He went on to found Telegram, an encrypted messaging app used by Ukrainians, Russians and people around the world – and the source of his estimated $15.1 billion fortune. Durov, who lives in Dubai, where Telegram is headquartered, became a French citizen Last year.
Despite these defectors, many of Russia’s roughly 100 billionaires still have much of their wealth stranded in Russia. In all likelihood, few of these billionaires – who rely on Putin’s goodwill – will leave their homeland any time soon.