“Wall Street Journal”: Yuri Kovalchuk, Vladimir Putin’s “personal banker” and his role in the armed invasion of Ukraine
71-year-old Russian billionaire Yuri Kovalchuk is one of the people who persuaded President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine with a military force, the American Wall Street Journal reported, citing its own sources. As one of the newspaper’s interlocutors stated, “during talks with Putin, Kovalchuk expressed the views that the West is weak and that the time has come to demonstrate Russia’s military might.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Yuri Kovalchuk “is distinguished by both his personal relationship with the president Vladimir Putinand the role it plays in shaping Russian public opinion.
The American daily reminded that the 71-year-old billionaire recognized by the State Department USA considered Putin’s “personal banker”, already in 2014, after the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea, he was included in the sanctions list of the West. Kovalchuk is also a media magnate in his activities. It controls one of the largest holdings in this industry – the National Media Group – which includes, among others, the television stations Pierwyj Kanal, REN TV and Piatyj Kanal, as well as the high-circulation daily “Izvestiya”.
The Wall Street Journal reminded that he sits on the board of directors of the National Media Group Alina Kabaevaconsidered by independent Russian and Western journalists to be Putin’s partner.
In December 2021, Kovalchuk’s “empire” acquired the VK group of companies, which includes the popular Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki.
As the American daily stated, during the defeats of the Russian army on the Ukrainian front, “Kovalchuk’s media are becoming increasingly valuable in the Kremlin’s arsenal, spreading pro-war propaganda, crushing dissent and working to divert the attention of a concerned public opinion.”
Physicist and ideologue
The Wall Street Journal recalled that the National Media Group’s television stations presented a “calm and stable picture of the announced mobilization and the sending of ‘motivated and well-trained’ reservists to the front”, and quoted Russian officials accusing the authorities of Ukrainethat “they are going to use a dirty bomb”.
The Americans warned that similar statements could be used by Moscow to justify its own use of nuclear weapons in an attack on Ukraine.
“Kovalchuk is also actively helping Putin to strengthen his control over the internet in Russia, which is very important for the Kremlin before the presidential election in 2024. The VKontakte portal tracks anti-Kremlin sentiment and shares user data with the authorities. And Russian security forces are actively looking for people who spread so-called fake news about the Russian military.
The Wall Street Journal’s interlocutors maintained that Kovalchuk, a physicist by training, is more guided by “patriotic ideology than the desire to get rich.” The billionaire does not hold an official position in the Russian government, but he has a great influence on the policy of the Kremlin and on who works in Putin’s entourage.
According to the newspaper’s sources, when the pandemic broke out in Russia in March 2020, Kovalchuk was in quarantine and regularly tested in order to be able to meet with Putin, who was isolating himself at his residences and rarely meeting his associates in person.
Putin and Kovalchuk could discuss Russia’s growing conflict with the West and Russia’s history for hours. A former Russian intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal that it was during these talks that Kovalchuk expressed his views that “the West is weak and that it is time to demonstrate Russia’s military might and ‘defend Russian sovereignty’ by invading Ukraine by force.”
The Wall Street Journal reminded that Putin and Kovalchuk come from St. Petersburg and have known each other since the 1990s. In 1991, after the St. Petersburg branch of the Communist Party, the owner of Bank Rossiya, was dissolved, Kovalchuk and several associates took control of it. Bank Rossiya is one of the country’s largest financial structures. Its activities were also supervised by Vladimir Putin when he was the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and was responsible for foreign investments.
Wall Street Journal, tvn24.pl
Main photo source: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/EPA/PAP
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