Mar 9 • 55M

Keeping Tabs on the Oligarchs (w/Teddy Schleifer)

We talk to the Puck reporter about his reporting on billionaires

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Yuri Milner with Mark Zuckerberg. Source: Getty

Suddenly, Silicon Valley is worried about its Russian ties.

I’m getting messages from sources about potential Russian-connected venture capital firms and software companies with inordinate numbers of Russian customers.

Companies like Netflix, Disney, Samsung, and TikTok are cutting at least some of their services in Russia. Meanwhile, Russia is restricting access to Facebook.

There were echoes of this moment, in 2018, when Silicon Valley was forced to reckon with its addiction to Saudi Arabian oil money after the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Investors started to wonder if they should feel guilty about the transgressions of their limited partners.

But then the spotlight faded and the business world moved on.

This time seems different. Most importantly, the U.S. government is expressly putting pressure on wealthy Russian elites. The ethical questions are taking a back seat to the foreign policy objectives of much of the Western world. So even in cases where people can justifiably separate the individual from the country, there’s intense pressure to hurt the Russian government by cracking down on individuals and institutions tied to Russia.

There’s perhaps no more prominent Russian-born investor than Yuri Milner.

Puck reporter Teddy Schleifer asked this month:

“What is Yuri Milner thinking? That’s the question I posed last week to Milner’s spokesman, after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and then again on Monday, after Western governments responded with crippling sanctions. Milner, after all, is easily among Silicon Valley’s most prominent Russians, having made billions of dollars as the force behind DST Global, the venture firm that placed historic bets on Facebook and Twitter, among other Bay Area landmarks. But it was Milner’s embattled friends that put him on my mind: The Russian provenance of DST’s early capital was supplied in large part by Alisher Usmanov, a Russian oligarch who made his fortune in metal and mining before teaming up with Milner in 2008.”

In the latest episode of Dead Cat, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I talked to Schleifer about Milner’s public silence on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We discussed the abrupt transition from a globally interconnected financial system to one that is suddenly looking to root out Russian money. (A DST spokesperson told Schleifer that Milner hasn’t taken money from Russian limited partners since 2012.)

We also talked to Schleifer about his list of American oligarchs. He ranked Reid Hoffman and Eric Schmidt as the most important political donors of the moment on the left, and Peter Thiel and Larry Ellison as number one and number two on the right.

Cheekily, Schleifer gave Chamath Palihapitiya the number four spot — on the right.

We also delved into philanthropy. Schleifer told us about one of his favorite donors — crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried — and floated the possibility that donor MacKenzie Scott’s rapid-fire giveaway project ends in disaster.

Give it a listen.

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