Russian billionaire Alexei Mordashov wants Ottawa to ignore requests from Canadian parliamentarians for the government to impose sanctions on him and his family’s gold mining company, which has an exploration project in Nunavut.
Mr. Mordashov’s chief media handler, Anastasia Mishanina, contacted The Globe and Mail Tuesday to say he is not a close ally of Russian President and therefore shouldn’t face Canadian sanctions, including asset freezes and a travel ban.
“I don’t think he has to be sanctioned because he has nothing to do with the start of this conflict, and him being sanctioned will not resolve in any way this conflict,” Ms. Mishanina said in a phone interview from Moscow.
Canada introduced a wave of sanctions against powerful Russians after Moscow began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February. But Mr. Mordashov has so far avoided being targeted by Ottawa.
He is the largest shareholder of Severstal, Russia’s fourth-largest steel maker, and his family owns stakes in gold miner Nordgold, whose headquarters are in Moscow. Nordgold was majority owned by Mr. Mordashov until March, shortly after the invasion, when he transferred his shares to his live-in partner.
Mr. Mordashov has been blacklisted and subjected to asset freezes by the United States, the European Union and Australia. The White House described him and several other sanction targets as “close to Putin” in a June, 2022, statement.
“It’s very common to see labels like ‘Putin’s ally’ with no proof or statement of real facts to support such allegations,” Ms. Mishanina said. “There is no special relationship whatsoever.”
She acknowledged that Mr. Mordashov has met the Russian leader on many occasions, but said those encounters always included groups of other wealthy Russian businessmen.
Asked if her employer, who is regarded as one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, thinks Mr. Putin is committing war crimes against Ukraine, Ms. Mishanina said: “He is no politician and he doesn’t make political statements.”
She noted that, at the beginning of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Mr. Mordashov issued a statement. It said: “It is terrible that Ukrainians and Russians are dying ... I sincerely hope a way can be found in the very near future to resolve this conflict and stop the bloodshed.”
Ms. Mishanina said Canada should also note that Mr. Mordashov sold his financial stakes in Rossiya Bank and Russian media outlets, after the EU sanctioned him in March.
In its sanction decision, the EU said he was “benefiting from his links with Russian decision-makers” and cited his company Severgroup’s financial interest in Rossiya Bank, “which is considered the personal bank of senior officials of the Russian Federation.” It also cited his investments in media outlets that “actively support the Russian government’s policies of destabilization of Ukraine” through pro-Putin television stations.
Because he ridded himself of those investments, “there is really no reason for him to be sanctioned,” Ms. Mishanina said. “This will definitely not resolve the conflict.”
She declined to explain why Mr. Mordashov transferred shares in Nordgold to his live-in partner, Marina Mordashova, in what the EU and the U.S. have said was an attempt to avoid sanctions. In June, the EU and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Ms. Mordashova. The U.S. also sanctioned Nordgold.
“It was his own property and he had a right to do so,” Ms. Mishanina said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has spoken about the need to impose high costs on Russia. In May, she said the intent of Canada and its allies is to isolate Russia “economically, politically and diplomatically.”
But Ms. Joly’s office declined to say what the minister would do about Mr. Mordashov. Instead, press secretary Adrien Blanchard noted in a statement that Ottawa has imposed sanctions on 1,500 “individuals and entities complicit in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, including on Putin himself” since the invasion began.
Mr. Blanchard didn’t explain why Canada is not in lockstep with major allies on Mr. Mordashov.
Conservative senators Leo Housakos and Claude Carignan have called on Ottawa to sanction the Russian billionaire.
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Housakos said it is shameful that the government hasn’t joined other allies in penalizing Mr. Mordashov.
“He was banned by our allies because of his unquestionable association with the Putin regime, and more importantly he is one of the wealthiest Russian businessmen in the world who has found a safe haven to do business is Canada,” he said.
He added that Ms. Joly can’t ignore how Mr. Mordashov took the unusual step of transferring his shares in Nordgold to his partner, which he said “is exactly what authoritarian bandits do when they are trying to hide from international sanctions.”
In March, Italian police seized a yacht owned by Mr. Mordashov.
Nordgold’s Nunavut project, known as Pistol Bay, consists of 860 square kilometres of mineral rights within the underexplored Rankin-Ennadai greenstone belt. Nordgold, through its Canadian subsidiary Northquest Ltd., owns 100 per cent of the Pistol Bay venture.