The authorities of the Moscow region demonstrate their support for Russia's military aggression against Ukraine by all means. State employees basically marched to participate in the public action "We don't leave our own behind." The students lined up to form "special operation" symbols — "living letters V and Z". The same letters were drawn on trains and municipal vehicles. Motorists parked their cars in the shape of these letters. And the farmers lined up their cows in a Z.
Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobyev and his father, Russian Senator Yuri Vorobyev, publicly expressed support for the war. "Our president has made a decision that aims to protect compatriots and prevent a threat to our country," said Governor Vorobyev on February 28. Earlier he appeared in public with the letter Z on his chest. “I voted in favor of 'special operation' (...). A very fitting, timely, and courageous decision," echoed his senator father, who is subject to EU and British sanctions.
Why such fervor? The Vorobyevs are representatives of one of the most influential clans in Russian politics. They are long-time associates of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Their families are connected by the civil service and business. But the war split the big family of the Moscow region's governor. The interests of the Vorobyevs-businessmen do not align with the "special operation" that the Vorobyevs-politicians support. IStories found out that the governor's relatives and friends are engaged in business in Great Britain, invested in the United States, bought real estate in Europe, and provided their children with Latvian and Monaco citizenships — they have not lived in Russia since 2014.
A rift in the family
According to Vladimir Putin's idea, the "special operation" should undermine the American "empire of lies." The European Union, Great Britain, and other countries that support Ukraine were on the list of "unfriendly states". And in Russia, they also compile lists of traitors, talk about confiscating the property of compatriots who fled abroad and stigmatize artists, journalists, directors, and writers who denounced the war.
The authorities are urging us to "rally behind the president" and "show unity". But even members of the influential family of Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobyev are unable to unite as one.
After Russia's military invasion of Ukraine, the governor's younger brother, entrepreneur Maxim Vorobyev, ended up in an awkward situation. He became a prominent businessman thanks to his older brother and his senator father. Their career and position in society are the results of their friendship and joint work with the Russian Minister of Defense. The senior members of the family are unequivocally in favor of the "special operation". The former wife of Maxim Vorobyev spoke out strongly against it, calling it a war. “Nothing on earth can justify violence. The Russians didn't choose this war. No one asked us. We pray for the lives of Ukrainian and Russian people. I'm ashamed," Kalininskaya wrote on February 24 on her Instagram, albeit only in English.
Kalininskaya and Vorobyev were married for more than 20 years. Their divorce was not announced, and IStories learned about it from Kalininskaya, who responded to our inquiry (more on this below).
In Russia, newspapers are shut down for statements like the ones Kalininskaya posted on Instagram. And people can get up to 15 years in prison if the claim is found to be a "fake about the armed forces." Meanwhile, the Vorobyevs' power and wealth are based on their proximity to confidants of the Russian president: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gennady Timchenko, an old friend of Putin's.
The Vorobyev family is one of the most powerful political clans in Russia, which members seriously expected Andrei Vorobyev to be Putin's successor, said a former high-ranking official in the presidential administration. Andrei Vorobyev is still on the list of successor candidates, and every word he says sort of goes through the casting for this role, according to another source close to the administration of the president. The Vorobyevs are closely connected with the Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. Before the war, Shoigu became very close to Putin. In recent years, Putin has spent many vacations with him. They have gone together for long periods to the Siberian taiga or ventured into the mountains. In turn, the Vorobyevs and Shoigu have been friends for more than thirty years. In the 1980s, they lived in the same house in Krasnoyarsk. "Sergei Shoigu and my father [Yuri Vorobyev] were officemates in the Krasnoyarsk Regional Committee of the Communist Party, both worked as instructors. They became friends and started communicating, including as families," Andrei Vorobyev said in an interview with the state news agency TASS. The patriarch of the family, Yuri Vorobyev, father of Andrei and Maxim Vorobyev, had been building the Russian Rescue Corps with Shoigu since the early 1990s. And when the latter became head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM), Yuri Vorobyev served there for many years as his first deputy. It was only in 2008 that he went into politics — he became a Russian senator and remains one to this day.
The senator's eldest son Andrei Vorobyev initially wanted to go into the family business with his younger brother. But a friend of his father's in the early 2000s called him into politics. "I didn't expect to be involved in public, political life in any way. But he (Shoigu — Ed.) said: "Andrei, I need a partner, I need an associate," the would-be governor recalled. So he became an aide to Shoigu, who at the time was deputy prime minister of the Russian government. And after Shoigu briefly served as governor of the Moscow region, in 2012 the governorship was literally "inherited" by Andrei Vorobyev, a high-ranking source in the United Russia political party recalls. He stresses that Shoigu has provided both continuity and team.
After the senator's eldest son turned into a promising politician, the youngest, Maxim Vorobyev, turned out to be the family's main businessman. And he took charge of the family fish business — Russian Sea Group (in 2015 it changed its name to Russian Aquaculture), which was founded back in the late 1990s in cooperation with his older brother. The authorities supported this business on all fronts. The Russian president's wealthiest friend, entrepreneur Gennady Timchenko, invested about USD 50 million in Russian Sea in 2011, and his son-in-law became co-owner of the group's fishing company.
Help also came from Vorobyev's old friend: just a few months after Shoigu's appointment as Minister of Defense, Russian Sea signed a state contract to supply fish to the army in the amount of about RUB 1 billion. The state also supported the group by putting administrative pressure on Chinese and Russian businessmen who had large fishing quotas. After audits by the antimonopoly service, they were forced to share quotas with the Vorobyev-Timchenko group and sold several of their fishing companies to it. The authorities at the highest level supported the Vorobyevs both in politics and in business. It would seem difficult to find people more loyal to the Russian military leadership and to Putin personally. But the Vorobyev family cannot unanimously celebrate Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The fortune of its main businessman, Maxim Vorobyev, in 2021 was estimated at USD 550 million. He and his wife have a lot of real estate in Europe, investments in the United States, and business in Great Britain. As well as foreign passports. And it's hard to give it all up overnight.
France, Monaco, and Israel
In Paris, two kilometers from the Eiffel Tower, on Avenue Marechal-Monouri, on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, there is the historic Walter Buildings apartment complex, built in the early 1930s in the Art Deco style. World celebrities lived here: tennis player Rene Lacoste (founder of Lacoste brand), billionaire Serge Dassault (former chairman of Dassault Group). And in 2007 the three-level apartment with a roof terrace was purchased by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's first president. She is known for anti-corruption investigations. Maxim Vorobyev and his wife bought an apartment in the same historic complex in 2011 for EUR 12 million, registering it in the name of his French company (Sci Marechal Maunoury 1, the company took a loan of the same amount from the Swiss Societe General Private Banking).
Documents from the French firm show that by that time Maxim Vorobyev and his wife had become citizens of Israel. And Kalininskaya is also a resident of Monaco. She occupied an apartment in the luxurious Residence Metropole, a stone's throw from the sea and Monte Carlo's biggest casinos. Such apartments are not available to many people. Here, for example, lived Farhad Moshiri, a billionaire on the Forbes list, and Leonid Cheshinsky, the former head of the state-owned company Roskhleboprodukt and former Minister of Grain Products of the RSFSR, resided there with his family.
IStories found evidence that Svetlana Kalininskaya reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs about her Latvian and Singaporean citizenships. And also about the fact that her children (grandchildren of a Russian senator and nephews of the governor of the Moscow region) received passports in these countries. Kalininskaya confirmed her anti-war stance and also told IStories that she had separated from her husband long ago, but that she had recently officially divorced him (she did not give the date of the divorce, but according to IStories, the divorce was not finalized as early as April of this year). Kalininskaya says she and her children have been living outside Russia since 2014.
UK, Singapore, and the USA
The family, which rose to prominence thanks to its proximity to the Russian defense minister, has an interesting business in Great Britain. In London, Maxim Vorobyev's ex-wife, Svetlana Kalininskaya, has owned Dragons Interiors Ltd since 2018 — Dragons of Walton Street, a premium children's goods store belongs to her. It sells handmade furniture and vintage toys, the cost of which can exceed GBP 9,000 (more than USD 10,000). This cozy little store is located in the heart of London's neighborhood of Chelsea — at 150 Walton Street. Nearby are the famous Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
In another part of the world, Kalininskaya also had a company with a similar name. In Singapore, she owned House of Dragons, a furniture retailer. And Maxim Vorobyev created an investment business there. Back in 2012, he became interested in investing in Internet projects, and a couple of years later he founded the Russian-Singaporean Amereus Group to invest in private and public companies of the "new economics". Vorobyev never said what the fund owns, but he did mention that the portfolio includes about a dozen technology companies from Russia, Europe, the United States, and Southeast Asia and that Amereus plans to significantly increase its project portfolio. The fund has a number of investments outside of Russia. He owned about 6.6% of Clearbridge Health, a Singapore-based medical company with a presence not only in Singapore but also in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Hong Kong, and China. Amereus also owns 10% of the U.S. biopharmaceutical company Liquidia Technologies (current capitalization — USD 344 million). And also invests in the Indian mobile platform Wooplr, dedicated to women's fashion, in the blockchain service Ubcoin Market and the social network Nextdoor.
Maxim Vorobyev is not the only member of the large Vorobyev family who has invested in American businesses. Senator Yuri Vorobyev has a brother, Sergei. His son Artem Vorobyev is married to Mireille Vorobyeva. A source of IStories that is close to investors in international startups, said that Mireille Vorobyeva runs another of the Vorobyev family's investment funds.
"After the war started, they contacted several startups in the U.S. and offered their money; they were turned down because of sanctions risks," says the source. Mireille Abi Haidar Vorobyeva's LinkedIn profile says she is responsible for developing the single family office's international business and for all deals involving foreign partnerships and investments, with a special focus on venture capital funds in the US, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
In 2020, she traveled to the 12th Family Office Investment Summit in Dubai, a summit that brings together "the world's best family offices" and private investors. In 2022, Mireille Vorobyeva also rolled up at the 19th Family Office Investment Summit in Monaco: she is listed as an employee of the fund of entrepreneur Vladimir Gruzdev, a longtime friend of Andrei Vorobyev. On the CEE Wealth Summit website, Vorobyeva is listed as the head of a family foundation (no name of the organization was provided). Mireille Vorobyeva's biography states that she has built successful partnerships with more than 100 leading venture capital funds, as well as hedge funds from the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Russian businesses and political interests
So far, the Vorobyev family has managed to simultaneously keep Western businesses afloat and maintain close ties with the Russian defense minister. These ties are mutually beneficial, legitimate, and most likely even unbreakable. They even have employees in common, recalled a former subordinate of Vorobyev. For example, for a long time Alexander Ilnitsky, who was brought to the region by Shoigu, was in charge of regional politics in the Moscow region. After working for Vorobyev, Ilnitsky moved on to work for Shoigu and later returned to Vorobyev. Victor Zakharov, the husband of Minister of Defense's sister Irina Zakharova, works for Vorobyev at the Moscow Region's Department of Administration as deputy head of the department. The Moscow region and the Ministry of Defense naturally have a lot of joint business, a major construction contractor points out. During the 10 years of Andrei Vorobyev's rule, the Defense Ministry has handed over to the region 333 property complexes with land, more than 1000 separate properties, and 690 hectares of land on the territory of former military camps near Moscow. Some military camps were replaced by commercial real estate. The care for the military camps continues to this day: "We are responsible for 65 military camps and have to take care of the people (...). It is especially important now when our military is carrying out combat task mission," — said Governor Vorobyev in March 2022.
A friend of Vorobyev's — Anton Abdurakhmanov, the head of Bamstroyput, one of the main developers of the Defense Ministry, and a godson of Shoigu. Until 2013, the company was headed by Victor Abdurakhmanov, the minister's best friend, according to an acquaintance of the family. After his death, the company was taken over by his son, Anton Abdurakhmanov, who carries out construction work for both the Moscow Region and the Ministry of Defense. For example, Abdurakhmanov was one of the contractors for the construction of the Patriot Park near Moscow, with a museum and the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces. For this project, the Moscow region has allocated an area of 5000 hectares. It was promised that the temple would be built only using donations, but in the end, RUB 2 billion was given by Moscow, and another 950 million was given by the Moscow region. In 2021 the Minister of Defense awarded Vorobyev an honorary cup for "good results in the organization of interagency cooperation."
Some of the businesses of the younger brother, Maxim Vorobyev, also depend on the older brother-governor. He is a co-owner of LLC "Samolet Dve Stolitsy", part of the "Samolet" construction group (one of the top five Russian developers). Governor Andrei Vorobyev has always claimed that his younger brother does not participate in projects in the Moscow region and is engaged only in Moscow and the Leningrad region. But according to the Unified Information System of Housing Construction, maintained by the Russian Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities, during its history State Corporation "Samolet" commissioned 133 houses, of which 79 are in the Moscow region. Now the group is building another 150 houses, 88 of them in the Moscow region. Permission for construction there is issued by the Ministry of Housing of the Moscow region, which is subordinate to Andrei Vorobyev. The Vorobyevs are trying to avoid possible conflicts of interest through chains of companies within the holding. There is usually a separate project developer for each residential complex. The legal entities building in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Leningrad region are directly connected to LLC "Samolet Dve Stolitsy", Vorobyev himself is listed in the project declarations as the beneficiary of the project developer. And there is no mention of Vorobyev in the declarations of houses being built in the Moscow region. The owner of the companies is the parent PJSC "Samolet", to which he allegedly has no connection, but among the beneficiaries are longtime business partners of the Vorobyev family: Pavel Golubkov, Igor Evtushevsky, and Mikhail Kenin. Pavel Tipikin, a brother-in-law of Andrei Vorobyev, partnered with another real estate developer in the Moscow region — Boris Gurovich's Monolit corporation. Together they own the company LLC "Specialized Developer "Novyi Zastroyshchik ", which is not an official developer but is part of the Monolit corporation, which built two housing complexes in Odintsovo and Mytishchi.
Neither hawks nor pigeons
Why do the Vorobyev-politicians support the "special operation," understanding all of its consequences, while the family of the businessman Vorobyev publicly speak out against it? Most likely, because there is no other way. They quickly reverted to the old Soviet habit of saying only what the authorities want to hear. And they can flexibly apply this skill on both sides of the border. Governor Andrei Vorobyev has never been a supporter of isolating Russia from the outside world. And he didn't seem to be secretive. According to his former employees, he was very fond of PR: he was the first governor to go for a television interview with the ironic Ivan Urgant, willingly used his social networks' accounts, and invested heavily in the regional media, turning them into an instrument of self-promotion (in 2020, the Moscow region authorities spent RUB 3.9 billion on cooperation with the media). "Vorobyev is a hedonist (loved to fly to events in a fancy helicopter which was later probably pensioned off). He loved traveling abroad and telling his subordinates about what he saw in other countries. A trip to Asia made a big impression on him; after Thailand, he was as happy as a child," says an acquaintance of Vorobyev. Another interlocutor close to the regional government recalls that Vorobyev arranged the launch of the Mercedes-Benz plant in the region, it was his great achievement, and he was very proud of it. A month after the start of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the plant in the Moscow region closed, and the company announced a boycott of Russia. As a curious and open-minded person who gets a high from exotic countries, Vorobyev hardly likes what is happening from an investment point of view, his acquaintance believes.
One of the members of the Russian Forbes list on condition of anonymity says that in the case of businessmen-politicians and members of their families it is very difficult to understand the degree of sincerity of their public statements at home and abroad. They quickly reverted to the old Soviet habit of saying only what the authorities want to hear. And they can flexibly apply this skill on both sides of the border. For many members of the Russian elite there is no such question at the moment: are you for the "special operation" or against it? They are neither hawks nor pigeons. For them, only one question is relevant: how to live and work in the new realities that do not depend on them?