The Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant in Norilsk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The owner of this smelly skyline on the Arctic tundra is now Russia's richest

Vladimir Potanin boosted his personal fortune with $1,6 billion in 2019 and is now believed to hold a net worth of $19,7 billion, Forbes magazine reports.
April 07, 2020


Vladimir Potanin has built much of his fortune by polluting the Arctic. In 1995, he acquired a stake in Norilsk Nickel during the privatization of Russian state-owned enterprises.

With factories in Norilsk on the Taymyr Peninsula and Nikel, Zapolyarny and Monchegorsk on the Kola Peninsula, the company is world-famous for its air pollution.

Although currently investing heavily in new technology for more efficient production and less emissions, the company’s factories are still the largest sulfur dioxide polluters in the circumpolar Arctic.

The Nadezhda plant is one of two factories in Norilsk polluting the Arctic tundra. A thirds factory, the old nickel-smelter, was shut down in 2016 and production moved to Mochegorsk on the Kola Peninsula.

According to its own reporting, Nornickel emitted 1,883,000 tonnes of air pollution in 2015, most of it sulfur dioxide killing vegetation on the Taymyr Peninsula and in the vicinity of the factories near Russia’s border to Norway and Finland in the Murmansk region.

The Forbes list of the richest people on earth was published on April 7th and includes 99 persons in Russia with a worth of more than one billion dollars.

Last year, Novatek owner Leonid Mikhelson was on top of the list in Russia. Mikhelson is today No. 3 on the list with a net worth of $17,1 billion.


Steel factory owner and transport logistic investor Vladimir Lisin is No. 2 with $18,1 billion.

2019 was a good year for NorNickel as prices of nickel, copper, platinum and gold stayed high. 

Vladimir Potanin controls through his company Interros about 25% of the shares in Nornickel.

The boost in Potanin’s fortune last year, $1,6 billion, means an increase of $4,4 million per day. We could put the sum in context of other things. If you had $1,6 billion you could buy 53,333 cars at $30,000 each.

On Forbes world list of richest people, Vladimir Potanin ranks No. 41. 

Norilsk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Here are the top 10 of Russia’s richest according to Forbes magazine:

1. Vladimir Potanin, President of Interros Holding and Nornickel. $19,7 billion.

2. Chairman of the board of NLMK Group, Vladimir Lisin, $18,1 billion.

3. Chairman of the board of Novatek, Lenonid Mikhelson, $17,1 billion.

4. Chairman of the board of Severstal, Alexey Mordashov and family, $16,8 billion.

5.  President of LUKOIL, Vagit Alekperov, $15,2 billion.

6. Board member of Novatek and Sibur, Gennady Timchenko, $14,4 billion.

7. Main shareholder of YueSem Holding Company, Alisher Usmanov, $13,4 billion.

8. Chairman of the board of Alfa Group, Mikhail Fridman, $13 billion.

9. Chairman of EuroChem, Andrei Melnichenko, $12,5 billion.

10. Main owner of Millhouse Investment Company, Roman Abramovich, $11,3 billion.


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