Russian oligarch luxury docks in Barcelona

Three businessmen close to Putin keep their yachts in Barcelona port

3 min
My Solaris, owned by Roman Abramóvitx, at the Port of Barcelona

BarcelonaA white tarpaulin covers one of the accesses to the Marina Barcelona 92 jetty. It wasn't there a few days ago, and you could clearly see the stern of a massive yacht. Now, the plastic spoils the photographs of the few tourists who come to see Barcelona's luxury. They are lucky if they can take out their cell phones without a watchman pointing his finger at a sign right next to them: no photos allowed. The yacht, which is protected at all costs, is called My Solaris, in homage to the novel by Lviv writer Stanislaw Lem. It flies a Cayman Islands flag, but it belongs to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC and worth $13bn, according to Forbes Forbes. It is 140 meters long and is about as big as Buckingham Palace. A few meters away lies the Valerie, another yacht which, despite its imposing 85 meters in length, is hidden by the shadow of My Solaris. It flies a Saint Vincent and the Grenadines flag, but the owner is another Russian tycoon: Serguei Chemezov, former KGB agent and CEO of Rostec (handpicked by Vladimir Putin, with whom he shared a posting in the eighties), a state corporation for industrial products. Abramovich and Chemezov have several things in common, among them money, luxury and being oligarchs close to Putin.

For them, Barcelona is neither pleasure nor leisure. Just a garage, a repair shop. At Marina 92, the largest yachts in the world are repaired, and it is here the yachts of a few Russian tycoons rest. Workers explain that they bring them in in September, so that they fix the damages. Over Christmas they set sail again in search of sun, which they usually find in the Caribbean. Afterwards, they return to Barcelona for a face-lift. This is the Aurora's situation, a yacht that is not even touching the water. Also flying the Cayman flag, it is owned by Andrei Molchanov, a Russian oligarch with a fortune worth $1.2bn and presides over LSR Group, a huge construction company.

The 'Aurora' in the port of Barcelona

Three of the biggest Russian fortunes are lined up in Barcelona. The businessmen, however, are not to be seen. Port employees explain that they have never seen any of them, at most a helicopter landing on the yacht. "I have been told that Abramovich has only set foot on this yacht twice," says one worker. In fact, the Chelsea owner has another yacht, the Eclipses, which is a little older but much larger, the third largest in the world, in fact. A few months ago, several witnesses also saw it around Barcelona.

The Dilbar, the yacht with the largest indoor capacity in the world, has now not been in Barcelona for some time. Its owner is Alixer Usmanov, according to the European Union "Putin's right-hand man" who "has solved his business problems" and who, according to Forbes, has a fortune of $15bn. He is among the 20 or so Russian oligarchs that the EU has sanctioned by freezing their assets, a fact that could affect the management of the yacht. The yacht itself may not be seized, but there may be problems paying crew and maintenance. For the time being, it is still in Europe, in Hamburg.

Vagit Alekperov, president of the Russian oil company Lukoil, with a fortune of $21.6bn, did not hang around and this weekend took his yacht out of the European Union. It was in Barcelona, very close to My Solaris, the Aurora and the Valerie but it is now already on its way to Montenegro. In this area of the port there is an infiltrator: the Al-Raya. It does not belong to any Russian, but to Bahrain royal family. Still, it has earned a place in the Russian sphere of influence, because it was Usmanov who sold it to them in 2018 for €250m. What the ships are worth and who owns them is a recurring theme in workers' conversations. Often, however, the owner is unknown to them, and they are only guided, they explain, by the crew's comments, such as "the Russian wants the deck to be spotless." "The Russian", "the crazy German", or "the old man", are some of the names used by the crew, who are in the habit of never saying the owner's name. In fact, all access is closely guarded, and nearby material stores, despite being well known to the watchmen, need a special e-mail to access the piers. For the time being, the war in Ukraine has not changed anything, the yachts continue to berth, getting fixed up so that Putin's cronies can set sail to wherever it is they declare their assets.