Early Facebook Investor Yuri Milner Renounces Russian Citizenship – Forbes

Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner speak onstage in 2016 at the Breakthrough Prize Ceremony.
On Monday afternoon, billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner announced on Twitter that he and his family “completed the process of renouncing our Russian citizenship” in the summer. He added that they “left Russia for good” after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Milner, 60, a Russian-born billionaire with Israeli citizenship, lives in the U.S. on a special visa. He is a well-known figure in Silicon Valley, thanks to early bets on Facebook and Twitter through his investment firm, DST Global, 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 an estimated $7.3 billion.
The 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 documents published in 2017 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The U.S. sanctioned both of those organizations in February. Alisher Usmanov, a sanctioned Russian oligarch and billionaire, managed the Gazprom subsidiary for over 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 to Forbes that he was ever acting on behalf of the Kremlin (and no evidence has ever suggested otherwise), and said that he had not taken Russian money in years. “According to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, you can only travel forward in time, never back,” he said in a statement. “So we cannot change the fact that we took some funds from Russian investors early on. 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 pretty smart.”
The timing of Milner’s latest announcement – following yet another vicious Russian bombing campaign across Ukrainian cities – drew some skepticism on social media. “[W]hy announcing this today though? what happened?” wrote one user.
According to a “fact sheet” on 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’s website. Milner did not respond to Forbes’ requests for comment on the timing of his announcement.
Milner is the third known Soviet-born billionaire to renounce their Russian citizenship during the war. Timur Turlov, founder of retail brokerage Freedom Holding, received a Kazakh passport in June, for which he was required to renounce his Russian citizenship. Ruben Vardanyan, who made his fortune cofounding investment firm Troika Dialog in the early 1990s, renounced his Russian citizenship in September after declaring Armenian citizenship and moving to Nagorno-Karabakh, a contested 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 Union-born students to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his Russian citizenship, Milner has been an Israeli citizen since 1999, and lived in the U.S. since 2011, according to his website.
After Russia’s invasion in February, Milner was quick to express solidarity with Ukraine. The Breakthrough Prize Foundation, the nonprofit group he cofounded and leads, condemned the war on March 3 and announced a $3 million donation to an unnamed “international relief 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 started by Ukraine-born actress Mila Kunis and her husband, actor and venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher. In April, the Milners pledged another $100 million to support Ukrainian refugees through a new “Tech for Refugees” initiative, in partnership with tech companies that Milner has invested in. Milner did not respond to requests for comment on how much of that pledge has been fulfilled.
Simultaneously, Milner has sought to downplay his ties to Russia. His website’s fact sheet insists Milner has “never met Vladimir Putin, either individually or in a group” and that “97% of Yuri’s personal wealth was created outside of Russia.” (By that logic, $219 million of Milner’s estimated $7.3 billion fortune was created in Russia). In 2020, Milner asked Forbes to list his citizenship as Israeli, rather than dual Israeli-Russian.
Of course, Milner is hardly the only billionaire to minimize their Russian background since Putin invaded Ukraine, reflecting the social pressures of the war. This year, another 8 Soviet-born billionaires with multiple citizenships asked Forbes to erase mention of their Russian papers. That includes Nikolay Storonsky, founder of U.K.-based banking app Revolut, who holds dual U.K.-Russian citizenship; and Andrei Rappoport, who has Russian, Israeli, Cypriot and Portuguese citizenship, but lives in Lugano, Switzerland, where he has a residency permit. “His wealth was not gained during President Putin’s tenure, he is not a friend of Putin’s, and has absolutely no contact with Putin,” an associate of Rappoport’s told Forbes in May over email.
To be sure, many really have moved on from their homeland. Pavel Durov, for example, was born in St. Petersburg, but left Russia in 2013 after tangling with Putin’s government over censorship issues. He then founded 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 100 or so billionaires still have much of their fortunes tied up in Russia. In all likelihood, few of these billionaires – who rely on Putin’s good will – will be distancing themselves from their homeland any time soon.


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