Russian Oligarchs

Leonid Mikhelson: Biography of Russian-Israeli Billionaire and Novatek CEO

Early Life and Education

Leonid Mikhelson was born on August 11, 1955, in Kaspiysk, Dagestan, in the former Soviet Union. His father, Viktor Zelmanovich Mikhelson, played a significant role in the construction industry and supervised the building of oil pipelines. The family later moved to Novokuibyshevsk, where Mikhelson spent his childhood and youth. After graduating from school, he pursued higher education at the Kuibyshev Institute of Civil Engineering, now known as Samara State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering. In 1977, he graduated with a degree in civil engineering.

Early Career in Construction

After completing his education, Leonid Mikhelson began his career as a foreman in the construction and installation department, working on the Urengoy-Chelyabinsk gas pipeline in Western Siberia. His rise through the ranks was swift, and he soon became the head of the line during the construction of the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod gas pipeline under the Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy trust.

Leadership at Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy

Prominent figure Leonid Mikhelson
Prominent figure Leonid Mikhelson

In 1987, tragedy struck with the death of his father, and Leonid Mikhelson took over as the head of Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy. Despite initial scepticism due to his father’s influence, Mikhelson proved his capabilities through hard work and professionalism. He quickly gained respect in the Russian oil and gas industry, eventually becoming the most respected and influential specialist in the field.

Brief details of Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy

Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy is a Russian firm specializing in the construction and maintenance of pipelines. Its name is derived from the city of Kuibyshev, now known as Samara, and the Russian terms for “pipeline” and “construction.”

Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy is a pivotal player in developing pipelines for transporting diverse commodities such as oil and gas. The company actively maintains these pipelines, ensuring their ongoing safe and efficient operation. With a rich history, Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy has played a crucial role in major projects within Russia and internationally, contributing to the global development and improvement of pipeline infrastructure.

Business Success and Privatization

The pivotal moment in Leonid Mikhelson‘s career came in 1991 when Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy became the first Russian enterprise to undergo privatization after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Renamed SNP “Nova,” the company, under Mikhelson’s leadership, gained control of the East-Tarkosalinsky gas field. In 1994, Novafininvest, Mikhelson’s company, took control of Nova, leading to the formation of Novatek, now a major player in the Russian gas industry, second only to Gazprom.

Expanding the business

In the late 1990s, Mikhelson expanded his business interests by acquiring the Truboizolyatsiya plant and, in 2005, the Purovsky plant, allowing Novatek to export gas through its terminal in the White Sea. The move positioned Novatek as the only non-governmental organization in the Russian oil and gas market.

Overview of Novatek


Novatek stands as a multifaceted enterprise, boasting an expansive portfolio of business ventures. As the foremost independent natural gas producer in Russia, Novatek is deeply involved in the comprehensive spectrum of activities related to the exploration, extraction, processing, and promotion of natural gas and liquid hydrocarbons.

Beyond its prowess in the energy sector, Novatek extends its influence into diverse domains. The company is a notable player in the production of electronic components, contributing to technological advancements. Simultaneously, it actively engages in the realm of information software services, catering to the evolving needs of the digital landscape. Adding another layer to its versatile profile, Novatek ventures into international trade, fostering global connections and commerce.

Notably, Novatek International emerges as a key player in the software solutions arena, specializing in applications tailored for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and healthcare sectors. The company places a distinct emphasis on crafting solutions that enhance quality environment management, aligning with the unique demands of these critical industries. In essence, Novatek’s diversified interests weave a narrative of innovation, expertise, and global impact across varied sectors.

Expansion into Banking and Petrochemicals

Leonid Mikhelson‘s entrepreneurial spirit extended beyond the oil and gas industry. He entered the banking sector by acquiring Svyazbusinessbank, which was later transformed into the First United Bank in 2008. Additionally, in 2011, he assumed the role of chairman of the board of directors of Sibur, Russia’s largest petrochemical holding.

Philanthropy and Cultural Contributions

Apart from his business ventures, Mikhelson is actively involved in philanthropy. He founded the Foundation for Contemporary Art, named after his daughter Victoria, focusing on integrating Russian art into the global context. The foundation also supports educational activities and collaborates with various entities to promote contemporary art in Russia. In 2015, Leonid Mikhelson ranked 6th in the list of people influencing Russian art.

Foundation for Contemporary Art

The Foundation stands as a global non-profit entity dedicated to championing contemporary art exhibitions and initiatives, with a distinct focus on artists hailing from Russia and the Soviet Union. The Foundation takes charge of showing exhibitions featuring both Russian and international contemporary artists and establishing collaborations with diverse cultural institutions across the globe.

Mikhelson’s avid interest in the world of art, particularly in Russian and contemporary artistic expressions, propels him to invest significantly in the advocacy for contemporary Russian art and the evolution of cultural establishments. One notable manifestation of this commitment is the GES-2 House of Culture in Moscow, an architectural marvel crafted by the renowned Renzo Piano. Within Mikhelson’s curated collection, one finds masterpieces by acclaimed artists such as Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, and Marcel Broodthaers.

Net Worth

As of August 2022, Leonid Mikhelson is rolling in dough, sitting pretty as the 44th richest person globally and the second wealthiest in Russia. The dude’s got a cool $28.8 billion in his pocket, thanks to being the big-shot founder and chairman of Novatek, a major player in the natural gas game. Plus, he’s got a sweet 17% slice of the pie at Sibur, a big-shot petrochemical company. The 2023 Forbes list tells a slightly different story, ranking Mikhelson as the fourth richest among Russian billionaires, with a still impressive $21.6 billion to his name.

YearNet Worth (in billions)
201415.6 Billion
201511.7 Billion
201614.4 Billion
201718.4 Billion
201818 Billion
201924 Billion
202017.1 Billion
202124.9 Billion
202214 Billion
202321.6 Billion

Forbes magazine named Leonid Mikhelson the richest Russian businessman in both 2016 and 2017, with a fortune exceeding $18 billion. He owns substantial stakes in Novatek (24.6%) and Sibur (30.6%). Despite facing sanctions from Australia, the UK, and Canada in April 2022, Mikhelson remains a prominent figure in the global business landscape.

Family and Personal Life

Marital and personal life of Leonid
Marital and personal life of Leonid

Mikhelson has been married for over twenty-five years, and his daughter Victoria, born in 1992, is recognized as the richest heiress in Russia. The Mikhelson family is actively engaged in charitable activities, with Victoria playing a significant role in her father’s foundation.

Notable Projects

One of Mikhelson‘s notable projects is the construction of the Arctic LNG-2 liquefied gas plant in the north of Yamal, with a capacity of 19.8 million tons per year and a cost of $21.3 billion. Additionally, he invested $470 million in the reconstruction of the Moscow hydroelectric power station, creating the GES-2 House of Culture.


Throughout his career, Leonid Mikhelson has received several awards, including the Soviet Order of the Badge of Honor and the Medal of the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, II degree, in 2014. He holds honorary citizenship in Novokuibyshevsk, Samara region (2009), and is recognized as an honorary worker of the gas industry.

Controversies of Leonid Mikhelson

Leonid Mikhelson, Russia’s wealthiest oligarch, utilized the services of the Bank of Utah to register his Gulfstream jet in the United States, a process that typically requires American citizenship or residency. The bank offers a discreet niche service that allows wealthy foreigners to legally obtain American aircraft registrations while keeping their identities confidential. In this case, the bank created a trust account in its name, acting as a stand-in for the owner on the plane’s registration records.

The Bank of Utah manages over 1,390 aircraft trust accounts, predominantly for foreign clients, making it the second-largest holder of such accounts in the country. The trust’s accounts, used by rich jet owners worldwide, were exposed through leaked records from offshore law firm Appleby. The leaked documents revealed that several American companies, including Wells Fargo, were sought after by wealthy individuals in Russia, Africa, and the Middle East for similar services.

The practice of using aircraft trust arrangements has raised concerns among members of Congress and federal auditors, as it provides an opaque method for individuals to evade sanctions, intelligence agencies, or law enforcement. Approximately 10,000 private planes in the United States are registered through noncitizen trusts, and there are worries about potential national security risks associated with the lack of comprehensive tracking by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In response to these concerns, legislation has been proposed to compel the FAA to obtain and regularly update records on the ultimate owners behind aircraft trusts. The Bank of Utah, which faced reputational risks after one of its planes was spotted in Iran, decided to continue the service with stronger due diligence and additional staff oversight.

Luxury Superyacht Pacific, Linked to Sanctioned Russian Billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, Took Evasive Journey to Turkish Safe Haven

Superyacht Pacific
Superyacht Pacific

A $150 million luxury superyacht linked to the sanctioned Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, who faced scrutiny for his ties to President Vladimir Putin, reappeared after nearly two weeks of concealing its location. Initially signalling destinations like the Bahamas and Barcelona—locations at risk of seizure due to sanctions—the superyacht’s final haven turned out to be Turkey.

Having embarked on a month-long, 7,000-mile journey, the 280-foot Pacific docked at the port of Marmaris in southern Turkey. The vessel had sailed “dark” for almost half of the trip, a breach of international maritime law, turning off its automatic identification system. This evasive tactic highlighted the extreme measures taken by crews of these multimillion-dollar yachts to reach jurisdictions less likely to apprehend them. In response to the invasion of Ukraine, the US, Italy, and other European nations seized over $2.3 billion worth of yachts belonging to Russian tycoons.

Turkey has become a preferred destination for superyachts linked to Russian oligarchs facing sanctions. Notable vessels such as Alexander Abramov‘s Titan and Roman Abramovich‘s Eclipse sought refuge in Turkish waters. Clio, associated with Oleg Deripaska, also halted location transmissions near Istanbul in April.

Luxury vessels affected by seizures have navigated vast distances, with some covering more than 5,000 nautical miles since the invasion began.

The Pacific, crafted in 2010 by the German company Luerssen Verwaltung GmbH, boasted luxurious features, including an elevator, pool, and space for two helicopters. Originally anchored in Costa Rica, it set sail in May, passing through the Panama Canal before vanishing off the radar in the Caribbean. The superyacht’s owner, Leonid Mikhelson, Russia’s second-wealthiest individual with a fortune of almost $25 billion, faced sanctions from the UK and Canada in April.

As the CEO of Novatek PJSC, a major Russian natural gas provider on the US sanctions list, Mikhelson’s assets, including a quarter of Novatek, became targets in the international campaign against Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The presence of Mikhelson on board the Pacific remained uncertain, with no immediate response from Novatek representatives. Despite legal challenges and increasing pressure, Russian tycoons like Mikhelson were reluctant to part with their prized yachts, seen as symbols of pride and prestige.

Sanctions on Leonid Mikhelson

Being a prominent Russian oligarch and billionaire, Leonid Mikhelson has in so many ways contributed to the Russian economy. This has eventually aided the Russian government in initiating military actions and genocide of the civilian population in Ukraine.

Due to all the above factors, there are international sanctions imposed on him.

DatePlace of sanctions
06/04/2022United Kingdom
12/10/2022New Zealand


Leonid Mikhelson, born on August 11, 1955, in Kaspiysk, Dagestan, rose to prominence in the Russian oil and gas industry. After graduating from the Kuibyshev Institute of Civil Engineering in 1977, he began his career in construction and swiftly advanced, eventually leading Kuibyshevtruboprovodstroy. Following the privatization of the company in 1991, Mikhelson founded Novatek, now a major player in Russia’s gas industry.

Novatek expanded under Mikhelson’s leadership, venturing into diverse sectors, including electronic components, information software services, and international trade. Mikhelson also entered banking and petrochemicals, acquiring ‘Svyazbusinessbank’ and chairing the board of directors at Sibur.

His philanthropic efforts include founding the Foundation for Contemporary Art and supporting cultural initiatives, notably the GES-2 House of Culture in Moscow. Mikhelson’s net worth, as of 2023, is estimated at $21.6 billion.

Controversies surround Mikhelson’s use of the Bank of Utah to register his Gulfstream jet in the U.S., raising concerns about transparency and potential evasion of sanctions. Additionally, his luxury superyacht, the Pacific, faced scrutiny amid sanctions related to the invasion of Ukraine, leading to its discreet journey to Turkey.

International sanctions have been imposed on Mikhelson by the UK, Canada, Australia, Ukraine, and New Zealand due to his association with Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Alexander Harris

Alexander Harris - The Digital Bloodhound Alexander isn't your typical investigative journalist. He thrives in the digital world, scouring the web for hidden connections and leaked documents. An expert data analyst and coder, he builds intricate digital trails to expose fraud, cybercrime, and government overreach. Alexander Harris began his career as a journalist. He is one of the founders of the " Russian Oligarchs Tracker Unit ".

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