The UK has sanctioned Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s richest oligarchs, along with several other individuals close to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office announced on Wednesday that Potanin, owner of the Interros conglomerate with an estimated net worth of £13bn, would face an asset freeze, travel ban, transport sanctions and a block on technical advice relating to aircraft.
Potanin is the chief executive and main shareholder of Siberian mining company Norilsk Nickel, which dominates the world’s supply of nickel and palladium.
The company’s central role in global metals production meant Potanin had been one of the few Russian oligarchs not targeted for sanctions by western countries except Canada.
Norilsk is crucial to supplies for electric batteries, a sector already dealing with a nickel shortage, and the automotive industry, which needs palladium for the catalytic converters of normal cars.
After the news, the price of nickel rose 6.5 per cent to $24,650 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange, while palladium gained 5.8 per cent to $1,982 an ounce.
Rhona O’Connell, analyst at StoneX, said it was not clear whether the sanctions imposed on Potanin, who owns 36 per cent of Norilsk, would extend to the company but “under common practice, it usually does”.
“UK auto production is 1.1 per cent of the global total,” she added. “So disruption would be more a question of logistics than market disarray.”
While his oligarchical peers have seen their empires crumble under the sanctions, Potanin’s eye for a bargain and fealty to the Kremlin have enabled him to snap up banking assets from owners fleeing Russia at knockdown prices.
He recently acquired Société Générale’s subsidiary Rosbank after the French giant left the country, then purchased Oleg Tinkov’s stake in online bank Tinkoff after the founder said he had come under Kremlin pressure for criticising Putin and the war in Ukraine.
The UK government said: “Potanin is obtaining a benefit from or supporting the government of Russia by owning or controlling Rosbank” because financial services are a “sector of strategic significance”.
The US and EU have yet to sanction Potanin, who spent much of his time in France before this year. US officials are wary of repeating mistakes when they sanctioned aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska in 2018, which sparked turmoil in global metals markets.
The chaos forced the US into an embarrassing climbdown. Sanctions against Deripaska’s companies Rusal and En+, which own the second-largest stake in Norilsk, were removed in exchange for the oligarch surrendering control.
The UK has also sanctioned Anna Tsivileva, president of the Russian coal mining company JSC Kolmar Group, who is Putin’s first cousin once removed. Tsivileva took over the company, which has operations in Siberia’s coal-rich Kemerovo region, where her husband Sergei Tsivilev became governor in 2018.
Other names added to the UK’s sanctions list included several less prominent figures and companies in sectors including financial services, technology, oil pipeline construction and transport.
The UK government said the latest round of sanctions “show that nothing and no one is off the table, including Putin’s inner circle”. The UK has placed more than 1,000 individuals and 120 businesses under sanctions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.