Russia's Teflon 10

MOSCOW — They're aggressive, captivating, mysterious and they lost about $120 billion last year. Meet Russia's 10 richest men, according to Forbes' annual list of the world's billionaires.

(An impressive number of Russians dropped off the Forbes list last year, including the country's only female billionaire.)

1. Mikhail Prokhorov

Mikhail Prokhorov is Russia’s richest man and most eligible bachelor. After selling his holdings in Norilsk Nickel, the Russian metals giant, on the eve of the financial crisis, he was sitting on a pile of cash just as the world began to crumble under a mound of debt. Sources say the sale was encouraged by the Kremlin following Prokhorov's high-profile arrest in the French ski town of Courchevel for involvement in an alleged prostitution ring (the charges were later dropped). He now focuses his efforts, mainly through his Onexim investment vehicle, on gold miner Polyus Gold and a newly acquired 50 percent stake in Renassaince Capital, a leading Russian investment bank.

At his peak in 2008, he was worth $19.5 billion, according to Forbes.

This year, his wealth stands at $9.5 billion, meaning a $10 billion loss that has still boosted his overall ranking on the Forbes list from 40 to 24.

2. Roman Abramovich

Media-shy Roman Abramovich quietly built a fortune through key alliances that have kept him Russia’s second richest man for two years in a row. First taken under the wing of now self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, Abramovich built his wealth in the chaotic 1990s by acquiring stakes in oil giant Sibneft and metals company RusAl. After Berezovsky fell out with the Kremlin, Abramovich sold his stake in Sibneft and allied himself with the state, quietly building his fortune through metals holdings in Evraz Group, holding the governship of the remote Chukotka region until last year, and publicizing Russian wealth and power through his acquisition of English football club Chelsea.

At his peak in 2008, Abramovich was worth $23.5 billion, according to Forbes.

This year, his wealth stands at $8.5 billion, meaning he lost $15 billion.

3. Vagit Alekperov

Vagit Alekperov is the powerful head of Lukoil, Russia’s second largest oil company and its most successful private one. Born and raised in Soviet-era Baku, the oil-rich capital of Azerbaijan, Alekperov worked his way up to become the USSR’s deputy oil minister. He then managed to snag a number of fields as the Soviet Union unravelled in 1991. Lukoil, in which U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips holds a 20 percent stake, was Russia’s largest oil firm for several years until state-run Rosneft built its holdings by buying assets from the bankrupt Yukos oil company of jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In 2008, Alekperov was worth $13 billion, according to Forbes.

This year, he is worth $7.8 billion, meaning he has lost $5.2 billion.

4. Mikhail Fridman

Mikhail Fridman is one of Russia’s most influential oligarchs and one of its most feared. Fridman built his fortune through Alfa Group, a conglomerate with holdings in banking (Alfa Bank), oil (a stake in TNK-BP) and telecoms (Altimo). Close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Fridman burst onto the front pages last year as he and his Russian partners in TNK-BP forged a ruthless campaign to win more influence in the oil firm, whose ownership is split 50 percent with British oil major BP. Fridman is now embroiled in a shady shareholder dispute with Norway’s Telenor over the firm’s stake in Russian telecom VimpelCom.

In 2008, Fridman was worth $20.8 billion, according to Forbes.

This year he is worth $6.3 billion, meaning he lost $14.5 billion.

5. Vladimir Lisin

Vladimir Lisin worked his way up from the engineering rooms of coal mines and steel factories to become the chairman of Novolipetsk Steel, known as NLMK. On the way, he formed, with associates, TransWorld Group, a powerful Russian aluminum and steel trader. NLMK is now Russia’s fourth largest steelmaker.

Last year, Lisin was worth $20.3 billion, according to Forbes.

This year, he is worth $5.2, putting his losses at $15.1 billion.

6. Alexander Abramov

Alexander Abramov launched his career mildly enough, as a physicist and researcher, before going into business after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He failed to capitalize on the massive assets grab of the 1990s, and instead built a powerful metals and coal trade. He entered the market directly after Russia’s financial collapse in 1998, snapping up steel firms and coal mines to help build Evraz Group, one of Russia’s largest steel producers. Evraz owns assets throughout Russia as well in North America, including Oregon Steel Mills.

Last year, Abramov was worth $11.5 billion, according to Forbes.

This year he is worth just $4.4 billion, putting his losses at $7.1 billion.

7. Leonid Fedun

Leonid Fedun is vice president of Lukoil. Tall and lanky, and sporting an impressive mullet, Fedun is the most public face of Russia’s second largest oil producer. He has been with CEO Vagit Alekperov since the beginning, helping to privatize the firm in the 1990s and following through on the deal to sell a stake to ConocoPhillips. He is also known for his love of soccer, and owns Spartak Moscow, one of Russia’s premier clubs.

Last year, Fedun’s worth stood at $6.4 billion, according to Forbes.

This year, he is down $2.1 billion to $4.3 billion.

8. Alexei Mordashov

Alexei Mordashov built his fortune in the chaotic 1990s, grabbing shares in burgeoning steel firm Severstal. Known as tough, yet hard-working, Mordashov now owns the bulk of shares in Severstal, which owns assets throughout Russia and the United States. He has global ambitions. Those were partly crushed in 2006, when his attempt to buy steel giant Arcelor was thwarted by Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal.

Mordashov was worth $21.2 billion dollars last year, according to Forbes.

This year, his fortune has plunged to $4.3 billion, meaning he has lost $16.9 billion.

9. German Khan

German Khan has built a ruthless reputation that has stuck with him to this day — a rarity among Russian oligarchs, many of whom have tried to clean up their images from the rough and tumble 1990s. Khan is known as the right hand man of Mikhail Fridman, and owns a stake in the oligarch’s Alfa Group. He is executive director at TNK-BP, an Alfa holding, and many inside TNK-BP say it is he who orchestrated the highly publicized shareholder dispute inside the firm last year.

Khan lost $9.9 billion, going from $13.9 billion last year to $4 billion this year.

10. Oleg Deripaska

Oleg Deripaska was the central character in the infamous “aluminum wars” that plagued Russia in the 1990s, as men violently competed against each other to get their hands on the mines, mills and factories that comprised the Soviet Union’s industrial heartland. Deripaska emerged the clear winner, no doubt helped by his convenient Kremlin connections (he is married to the daughter of former president Boris Yeltsin’s chief of staff). The result was Russian Aluminum, known as RusAL, Russia’s largest metals firm and the world’s second largest aluminum producer. He has since diversified his fortune through his holding company, Basic Element, which owns auto (Gaz) and insurance (Ingosstrakh) assets and a host of other firms.

Last year, Deripaska was Russia’s richest man and the world’s ninth richest, with a fortune of $28 billion, according to Forbes.

This year, his fortune has plummeted a breathtaking $24.5 billion, leaving him with $3.5 billion.

(All photos by Reuters.)

Read more about those who dropped off the list.

Related and other GlobalPost Dispatches by Miriam Elder:

From Siberian prison to Russian courtroom

Civil unrest in Russia mounts

Russia sings the Eurovision blues