In a letter reportedly sent to a U.S. official in Israel, Dani Dayan, the chairman of Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, Yad Vashem, called for Roman Abramovich to be spared from U.S. sanctions ahead of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. Dayan argued that economic sanctions would be detrimental to the institution, which relies on funding from Abramovich, its second-largest private donor.
Signed by Dayan and other heads of Israeli organizations on February 6, the joint letter was reportedly addressed to U.S. ambassador Tom Knides several weeks before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion in Ukraine, as the Washington Post first reported. The U.S. had already announced it was drafting a list of individuals with ties to the Russian government to target with sanctions as a response to Putin’s military advances into Ukrainian territory ahead of the assault.
A little more than two weeks later, on February 22, Dayan said that the museum had entered into five-year “strategic partnership” with Abramovich that would see the Yad Vashem’s research initiatives expand with an eight-figure donation from the Russian oil magnate. In a statement, Dayan said the support was crucial “at a time when Holocaust distortion, denial and politicization are rising alarmingly worldwide.” Since then, Dayan has condemned Russia’s recent missile attack on the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv.
“Mr. Abramovich has contributed to worthy causes for more than a decade,” Dayan said in the letter.
Abramovich, who regularly appears on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list, is a major donor to Jewish causes and holds dual citizenship in Israel. He amassed his wealth in the oil and gas industry, and is worth $13.5 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The news comes on the heels of Abramovich’s decision to sell his majority share of the Chelsea F.C., the English soccer team he has owned since 2003, as U.S., U.K., and European sanctions put a grip on Russian banks, freezing the assets of ultra-wealthy oligarchs in Putin’s inner circle. The team is estimated to be worth at least $2.5 billion and is being eyed by a consortium of bidders that includes Swiss and U.S. billionaires.