The coronavirus has been a test for everyone, but some Russians have more options than most. The Bell investigated (Rus) how Russia’s wealthiest citizens are dealing with the pandemic: self-isolating in mansions, buying ventilators and fueling a black market in tests.
- One of Russia’s top-100 richest people told The Bell he flew to Switzerland on March 30, three hours before the border was closed. “I just woke up and realized I wanted to be in a country where there are more brains,” he said. He is not the only Russian tycoon in Europe. The former owner of fertiliser giant Uralkali, Dmitry Rybolovlev, is also based in Switzerland (according to flight tracking data and a source close to him), while former Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is apparently holed up near France’s picturesque Lake Bourget just south of Geneva.
- Planes owned by billionaire Viktor Vekselberg (a college friend and a business partner of Soviet-born Len Blavatnik) and the billionaire founder of conglomerate AFK Sistema, Vladimir Yevtushenkov are both stuck in Basel. However, both businessmen are in Moscow, according to the sources.
- At the same time, many members of the super wealthy with homes in Europe returned to Russia. There were people both leaving and arriving at the terminal for business jets in Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, the head of Vnukovo told The Bell.
- In Moscow, the super-rich rushed to Rublyovka. Since the nineties, this has been the most elite area of Moscow Region, and is full of the second homes of state officials, criminals and billionaires. It has lost some cache in recent years, but is ‘blossoming’ because of the coronavirus. The demand for mansions has jumped fivefold since the beginning of the pandemic — and so have prices. The average monthly rent in the neighborhood is about $14,000, and demand is now outstripping supply.
- Rich people do not trust the state healthcare system. As a result, they have been buying up ventilators. Pretending to be a buyer, The Bell phoned 5 medical equipment dealers but couldn’t obtain a ventilator at short notice (the price for one is about $27,000). The earliest delivery date was May.
- Many of those who can afford it are trying to hire personal doctors who would be able to use ventilators, several top Moscow doctors told The Bell. One Moscow-based doctor with wealthy private clients recalled how one person came to a private medical center, “put down around a million dollars and said: ‘I want to reserve this wing with its ventilator exclusively for my own use’”.
- As soon as the coronavirus took hold in Russia, the wealthy began to buy up stores of tests, which led to a black market, according to the owner of a Moscow clinic. Russian singer Stas Mikhailov even did a black market test live on Instagram.
- But there is little getting away from the realities of lockdown. “People on Rublyovka are depressed: it’s still house arrest, even if it’s in a luxurious villa,” said one Russian businessman in Switzerland.
Why the world should care The irony of the situation for Russia’s rich is that their survival depends on the quality of the system as a whole – a system they do everything to avoid. Doctors interviewed by The Bell said that personal ventilators and sophisticated tests will not necessarily save anyone from COVID-19. Only systematic measures like lockdown, mass testing and a functional healthcare system can help. “You can’t build such things for yourself in a couple of days when [the healthcare system] has been falling apart for 20 years,” one doctor said.