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Russian oligarchs moving yachts as U.S. tracks down assets

Russian oligarchs move to preserve financial assets
Russian oligarchs move to preserve financial assets 02:21

Yachts owned by Russian billionaires are on the move as the U.S. and its allies seek to hunt down the assets of Russia's wealthiest in direct response to the invasion of Ukraine. The wealthiest Russian money – including Russian President Vladimir Putin's — has pushed to sea.

Data from MarineTraffic, a global intelligence group, shows yachts owned by oligarchs are on the move, including aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska's $65 million Clio and oil executive Vagit Alekperov's $80 million Galactica Super Nova.

"No self-respecting oligarchy exists without a super yacht. And so what we're seeing now is a hightailing it on the high seas," financier and anti-corruption activist Bill Browder told CBS News. 

A super yacht is typically over 40 meters long. The Clio and Galactica are each over 70 meters long. 

Luxury Yachts At The 2016 Monaco Yacht Show
The superyacht Galactica Supernova, built by Heesen Yacht Builders BV, sits moored in the harbor during the Monaco Yacht Show on Sept. 28, 2016.   Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In response to Putin's war against Ukraine, the Biden administration created a task force to go after Russian oligarchs' "yachts, luxury apartments, money and their ability to send their kids to fancy college[s] in the West." 

Browder said the goal is to get the oligarchs to pressure Putin to stop the war. 

"We're not ready to engage in military warfare. And so there's an expression: We should fight them in the banks if we can't fight them with tanks,'" he said. 

Some oligarchs have made statements taking issue with the Russian invasion.

Mikhail Fridman, who founded one of Russia's largest private banks, said he does "not believe that war would be a solution." Evgeny Lebedev — the son of an oligarch, and who owns a London newspaper — wrote an op-ed pleading with Putin to "save the world from annihilation." 

The financial pressure is really about undermining support for Putin, both "among rank-and-file Russians as well as the oligarchs who help control the economy," said John Smith, former director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers and enforces all foreign sanctions.

Weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, the $100 million "Graceful" — believed to be owned by Putin himself— left a German port for safer Russian waters. 

Vladimir Putin's reported yacht 'Graceful'
The yacht reportedly owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Graceful, is seen moored at the port of Sochi, Russia, July 13, 2015. Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images

"He's a former KGB agent, and he has worked his entire career to appear on the surface to be the common man — when below the surface, it's apparent that he has significant wealth stored," said Smith.

Former government officials and experts told CBS News that cutting off Putin's revenue from the energy industry is key but this is an area where both the U.S. and its allies are vulnerable. Further disrupting the energy supply could send prices even higher.

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