Switzerland has now followed moves by the U.K. and E.U. governments to place further sanctions on prominent Russian business moguls with ties to the Vladimir Putin as the war in Ukraine continues. Among the tycoons whose assets are now subject to freezes across the three territories is Roman Abramovich, a major art collector and the owner of the British soccer team Chelsea F.C.
The action is among the most restrictive sanctions placed on Abramovich so far by the U.K., and the European Union. Among the profit-bearing entities under Abramovich’s ownership are Chelsea and the London-based steel and mining company Evraz, shares of which which he purchased in 2003 and 2015, respectively. Previous sanctions have put a grip on Russia’s state-controlled banks and initiated halts in oil purchases from the region.
The new sanctions bar Abramovich from making any sales of assets in the country, which could severely limit his ability to buy art there. The U.K. government said it will issue a special license for the potential sale of Chelsea F.C., which the oil mogul announced that he would deaccession last week, handing over operating control to Chelsea Foundation board members. While the license will allow the sale of the team to go ahead, it blocks Abramovich from receiving any of the proceeds, according to the U.K. government’s statement.
Abramovich has ranked on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list each year since 2008. (Prior to 2017, he had been listed with his wife Dasha Zhukova, to whom he is no longer married.) With Abramovich’s assets frozen in the U.K., it is still unclear how his art collection, including paintings by Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, will be impacted.
Other Russian oligarchs officially being targeted with U.K. and U.S. sanctions include art collectors as well as businesspeople that have backed museum exhibitions promoting Russian culture and cultural heritage projects abroad. Among them are Igor Sechin, the chief executive of petroleum company Rosneft, which has funded exhibitions of Russian art in Doha and at the Hermitage Museum, and Alisher Usmanov, a billionaire Russian industrialist with interests in the steel sector. Usmanov owns a Russian art collection that has been estimated to be worth £25 million ($33 million). He has sponsored showcases through his art and sports foundation at the Tate and Moscow’s Pushkin Stat Museum of Fine Art. In 2015, he backed the restoration of a historic Roman Basillica. In a statement published to the website of another sporting charity run by the businessman, Usmanov called the E.U. sanctions “unfair,” labeling the reasoning behind them “false and defamatory.”
In lockstep with the UK government’s move, European Union officials added Abramovich to a list of Russian oligarchs targeted in the administration’s latest round of sanctions, saying that the magnate, had “privileged access to the president, and has maintained very good relations with him,” in a statement. The sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans in the EU and block investments in Russia’s energy sector. In an unexpected move mirroring the European Union’s policies, Switzerland added Abramovich to its list of sanctioned Russian magnates on March 16.
Updated, 3/17/22, 5:20 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect news related to recent sanctions placed on Roman Abramovich by the European Union and Switzerland.