Meet the Russian Billionaires That Took on BP and Won

Last Updated May 18, 2011 8:16 PM EDT

BP gets bitch-slapped every time the oil company tussles with its TNK-BP partners -- several Russian oligarchs who own the massive financial and industrial conglomerate Alfa Group Consortium. Just ask BP CEO Bob Dudley, the former head of TNK-BP, whose run-ins with the billionaire shareholders ended with his forced departure from Russia. This time around, Alfa Group has squashed BP's Arctic oil exploration dreams with some legal meddling that has left the company's landmark share swap deal with Russian oil company Rosneft in tatters.

So, who are these giants of industry who have a kryptonite-like affect on BP? Their company, also known as AAR, has its fingers in every industry imaginable. Banking, insurance, retail trade including a supermarket chain, telecommunications, media, water supply and oil are all part of the conglomerate. Meet the men behind it all.

Mikhail Fridman
Net worth: $15.1 billion, which puts him 43rd on Forbes billionaires list and makes him the seventh wealthiest person in Russia.

Fridman, who was born in the Ukraine, is one of three controlling shareholders of the Alfa Group which he shares with German Khan and Alexei Kuzmichev, two friends he met at the Moscow Institute of Steel & Alloys. Fridman is chairman of the Alfa Group.

He first jobs included window washing, running a discotheque and scalping Moscow theater tickets, according to PBS. He and his friends started a courier delivery service after then-president Mikhail Gorbachev passed economic reforms that relaxed restrictions and encouraged private business. He set up Alfa Foto, a photo cooperative and then Alfa-Eco, a commodities trading company. Later, they started Alfa-Bank, now one of the largest private banks in Russia. One of his partners, Peter Aven, who is a shareholder of Alfa Bank, was Russia's minister of foreign economic affairs. Fridman was considered one of the "Big Seven," a group of oligarchs who financed the 1996 re-election of President Boris Yelstin. In return, he and the others received control of state assets worth billions.

German Khan
Net worth: $9.6 billion, which puts him 92rd on Forbes billionaires list and makes him the thirteenth wealthiest person in Russia.

Khan, who was born in Ukraine, is one of the original founders of Alfa Group Consortium. He is executive director and board member of TNK-BP. He also sits on the boards of directors of oil company Slavneft and ABH Holdings, the holding company of Alfa-Banking Group. Slavneft was privatized in 2002 and its parity owners became TNK, or Tyumen Oil. The Alfa Group sold half of TNK to BP in 2003.

Alexei Kuzmichev (or Alexey Kousmichoff)

Net worth: $7.5 billion, which puts him 124rd on Forbes billionaires list and makes him the 22nd wealthiest person in Russia.

Kuzmichev, who was born in Russia, is the chairman of A1 Investment Company and is on the board of directors of ABH Holdings. He was one of the three original founders of Alfa Group and attended Moscow Institute of Steel & Alloys, where he met Khan and Fridman.

Kuuzmichev also is chairman of Russian Technologies, a venture fund, and sits on the board of directors of Crown Resources.

Leonard Blavatnik
Net worth: $10.1 billion, which puts him 80th on Forbes billionaires list and makes him the 28th wealthiest person in the United States.

Blavatnik was born in Russia and emigrated to the U.S. with his family in the late 1970s. He would eventually earn a master's degree from Colombia and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He made it big in real estate and moved back to Russia in the 1990s where he joined other entrepreneurs who were buying assets being privatized by the government, according to the WSJ. Blavatnik, who is a U.S. citizen, eventually founded Access Industries, which has holdings in natural resources, chemicals, media, real estate and telecommunications companies. It's now part of the Alfa Group.

One of the "As" in AAR in fact stands for Access. Access Industries owns (among other things) a significant stake in Tory Burch, the luxury fashion label. In 2007, Access bought Lyondell Chemical, one of the world's largest chemical and refining companies, for $12.7 billion only to have it file for bankruptcy two years later. Most recently, Access purchased Warner Music Group for $3.3 billion in cash.

Viktor Vekselberg
Net worth: $13 billion, which puts him 57th on Forbes billionaires list and makes him the tenth wealthiest person in Russia.

The "R" in AAR stands for Renova, which Viktor Vekselberg formed with formed with university pal Blavatnik . He also co-founded SUAL Holding, a huge aluminum business. These two later joined the Alfa Group. Vekselberg, who was instrumental in the TNK-BP joint venture, sits on the TNK-BP board and is chairman of the group of Renova companies.

Random Vekselberg fact: In 2004, he bought the Forbes Faberge collection of Imperial eggs.

Photos from Alfa Group, wikimedia and Flickr user zzzack, CC 2.0

Related: