Private game reserves became a bon ton among Russian politicians and businessmen. A couple of years ago, the Law On Hunting has been significantly amended and it became virtually impossible to join the privileged ‘hunters club’. So, who managed to acquire personal hunting lands and how much it costs?
Specificity of Russian hunting
Hunting has always been more than just a hobby, it demonstrated the social status of a hunter. In Russia, the upper class owned huge game areas and personal kennels to breed elite greyhounds and whippets; some people even managed to hunt in restricted nature reserves. In fact, this is a pretty common practice nowadays. People holding supreme positions in regional or federal authorities may shoot argali or catch Arctic char listed in the Red Data Book without any consequences. However, many members of the political and business elite have chosen a more civilized form for their hobby.
Animals feel more comfortable in private game reserves where their populations are protected and maintained, while the poachers don’t dare to trespass on lands belonging to ‘respected people’. By the way, a private game reserve becomes an expensive luxury only if the owner invests money into it. The lands are provided by the government at rock-bottom prices – 1 to 10 rubles ($0.017–0.17) per hectare per year. Furthermore, the investments into the nature conservation are a user’s right – not a liability.
Almost all hunting lands in Russia are currently in private hands. Some of those formally belong to public organizations founded by major businessmen, officials, and their associates. The hunting lands were in high demand in the 1990s and 2000s. Licenses to use lands for hunting purposes were distributed through tenders; the duration of a license was 10 years. It is easy to imagine how these tenders were carried out... As a result, by the end of the 2000s, ordinary hunters could not hunt even if they had game licenses – in vast Russian forests, they were constantly entering private lands, thus, becoming poachers.
“Almost all hunting lands in Russia are currently in private hands”.
The Federal Law On Hunting, Preservation of Hunting Resources and Amending Certain Federal Legislation has been approved in 2009. It has worsened the situation further. The law requires to preserve at list 20% of common use hunting lands in each region and stipulates that the deficiency of such lands has to be replenished upon the expiration of the existing licenses. At the same time, the law replaces wildlife use licenses with hunting agreements that can be obtained through tenders. The duration of the hunting agreements is 20 to 49 years – i.e. much longer in comparison with the licenses. The point is that the law allows license holders to convert those into hunting agreements. In 2015, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has annulled this provision – but the previous six years were sufficient for those willing to use their right. Ultimately, 90% of hunting lands in Russia became privately owned for several decades. Who are these lucky proprietors of natural riches?
Vladimir Lisin, owner of Novolipestky Metallurgical Plant, is the principal hunter and shooter in the Russian business. He owns Lis’ya Nora (Foxhole) shooting range in the Moscow region recognized the largest in Europe and 49.3 thousand ha of hunting lands in the Tver region. The lands belong to Rumelko-Sporting Hunting Club whose cofounder is Lisin. In addition, Vladimir Lisin and Petr Aven, Member of the Board of Directors of Alfa-Bank and Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABH Holdings S.A., have established in 2001 Korolevskaya Okhota (Royal Hunt) Closed Joint Stock Company. The area of lands controlled by Korolevskaya Okhota is unknown.
Aven is another votary of hunting from the Forbes list. The assets of Alfa-Bank include Zalesye hunting enterprise in the Tver region with the area of 17 thousand ha. In addition, Alfa-Bank has reportedly purchased Los’ (Moose) hunting enterprise in the Pereslavl district of the Yaroslavl region with the area of 110 thousand ha. In 2010, Aven and his partner in Korolevskaya Okhota Lisin became members of the Council for Hunt and Hunting Sector of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation. In the same year, Aven has established Okhotnich’i Ugod’ya (Hunting Lands) company specializing in 82 business activities, including hunting. Alfa-Bank shareholder German Khan and Iskander Makhmudov, President of Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company, are co-owners of Okhotnich’i Ugod’ya.
In 2012, Aven and Khan were mentioned as co-owners of Medved’ (Bear) hunting enterprise in the Arkhangelsk region. The third co-owner was businessman Vladimir Butorin. According to VITA Animal Rights Center, in 2010, Butorin had arranged a shooting of rare goose species near Belomorsky game reserve – this explains the secretiveness of the owners of the hunting enterprise renamed into Tri Medvedya (Three Bears).
Viktor Perevalov nicknamed king of governmental contracts is a co-owner of VAD Closed Joint Stock Company. He has acquired a personal game reserve in the Leningrad region. In 2006, the businessman purchased Svir’ hunting enterprise with the area of 59.2 thousand ha in the Podporozh’e district. Four years later, Perevalov has purchased a share in Bobrovka Hunting Club in his native Vologda region. Bobrovka controls 76 thousand ha of land.
Viktor Perevalov (on the right)
As said above, many owners of hunting lands prefer to conceal their names behind the legit front of public organizations. For example, Nikolai Shamalov, co-owner of Rossiya Bank repeatedly mentioned in high-profile journalist investigations, is a member of the Priozersk District Hunting and Fishing Society in the Leningrad region. Vadim Mozhaev, ex-functionary of the Federal Agency for Public Healthcare and Social Development later accused of extortion of funds from Toshiba Corporation during the governmental acquisition of Toshiba tomographs, is among the members of this g society as well. The Priozersk District Hunting and Fishing Society controls 110 thousand ha of hunting lands mostly located on the shores of Lake Ladoga.
Hunter Vladimir Yakunin is a good neighbor of Shamalov. The former President of Russian Railways shoots wildlife on lands controlled by Mel’nikovsky Hunting and Fishing Society that borders the Priozersk District Hunting and Fishing Society. The total area of the hunting lands exceeds 74 thousand ha. Oleg Medoev and Vladimir Vasil’ev are among the cofounders of the society. The two little-known businessmen also own shares in Zolotaya Utka (Golden Duck) and Nastoyashchaya Okhota (Real Hunt) companies. Yakunin also used to own a share in Nastoyashchaya Okhota as recently as two years ago.
Businessmen affiliated with Anatoly Serdyukov
Vasil’ev and Medoev are also members of Lion Sports and Hunting Club. Lion Club unites many people having ties with Anatoly Serdyukov – Petr Usov and Anatoly Poltorak are members of this ‘hobnob’ chaired by Viktor Shpakovsky. All these gentlemen are old friends of Anatoly Serdyukov; they were involved into the embezzlements in Oboronservis. Lion controls 25.3 thousand ha of land.
Due to the lack of available hunting lands, buying and selling of shares in hunting enterprises becomes increasingly popular. A nephew of Nikolai Patrushev joined the ranks of ‘golden’ hunters this way. A year ago, Aleksei Patrushev became a new co-owner of Irbis (Snow Leopard) company that owns 12 thousand ha of land in the above-mentioned Priozersk district of the Leningrad region.
According to Vedomosti.ru, in 2010, the family of the ex-Governor of the Vologda Region had owned over 254 thousand ha of hunting lands in the region. Officially, the lands had belonged to companies controlled by Vasily Solov’ev, son-in-law of Pozgalev. Tsentr 911 (Center 911) and Areal companies had owned over 100 thousand ha each, while 40 thousand ha belonged to the Vologda Hunting and Fishing Club. After the appointment of Oleg Kuvshinnikov the new Governor of the Vologda Region, over 54 thousand ha of land have been seized from Areal, and Vasily Solov’ev sold his shares in both companies. However, he still remains a member of the hunting and fishing club.
The list of officials and businessmen owning personal hunting enterprises goes on. They control territories of different sizes that sometimes do not match the status of their owners. For example, billionaire Valery Izrailit has 12 thousand ha officially belonging to Ecologiya-Kurgolovo Limited Liability Company, while a son of Nikolai Golovkin, ex-Head of the Administration for the Vologda Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, possesses 128.5 thousand ha of land in his native region. Overall, all the lands in Russia suitable for hunting have been de facto privatized. It is safe to say that territories allocated to wealthy individuals for 49 years are their private property.
On September 21, kingpin Vladimir Vagin, aka Vagon, hanged himself. Two years earlier another thief in law Max Pioner also committed suicide. Vagon's lawyer does not believe in the version of suicide and intends to apply for a forensic medical examination.