The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Oligarch renounces Russian citizenship, saying ‘everything Putin touches dies’

Russian-born Israeli businessman and philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

TEL AVIV — Russian-Israeli oligarch Leonid Nevzlin announced Tuesday that he plans to give up his Russian passport in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Everything that Putin touches dies,” Nevzlin wrote in a Facebook post. “I am against the war. I am against the occupation. I am against the genocide of the Ukrainian people.”

Nevzlin was among the first prominent Russian oligarchs to establish self-imposed exile in Israel, fleeing what he has described as a campaign of politically motivated persecution by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2003, Nevzlin fled Russia for Israel amid a Kremlin-backed investigation into his Yukos oil company. Nevzlin co-owned Yukos with Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, who was imprisoned by a Moscow court on charges of fraud, and, later, of embezzlement and money laundering.

Israel has refused requests for Nevzlin’s extradition to face charges in Russia of murder, attempted murder and financial crimes.

Nevzlin has denied all charges and has said they are attempts by Putin to silence him and other critics.

“I was one of the first to be hit by Putin. He threw my friends in jails, and killed some of them,” wrote Nevzlin. “I have spent almost twenty years outside Russia, but that is exactly what has allowed me to see its process of rotting and decomposing.”

In the years following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, a new wave of wealthy Russian citizens, including former Chelsea Premier League soccer team owner and longtime Putin supporter Roman Abramovich, took up Israeli citizenship in part to avoid the resulting U.S. sanctions. Many continue to have business and financial ties in Russia and have been cautious about publicly criticizing the war.

Sanctioned billionaire banker Mikhail Fridman has described the war as a “tragedy” and said that war “can never be the answer.” But in a news conference with journalists in London, he said he would not directly criticize Putin’s invasion of Ukraine so as to avoid reprisals against his employees.

Nevzlin wrote Tuesday that his compatriots cheered the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

“Thank goodness some of them didn’t make it to this day,” he wrote. “The day when the Motherland, whose fresh passports they kissed, became a fascist state.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

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Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

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