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Former Russian banker forced to end philanthropy projects after ‘foreign agent’ designation

The Russian flag. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A former Russian tycoon who made a fortune in retail and banking has been forced to end his philanthropy projects aimed at fighting leukemia after Moscow designated him a “foreign agent.”

Oleg Tinkov, one of Russia’s most successful entrepreneurs, announced in 2021 that he would invest up to $200 million to build diagnostic laboratories in Russia’s regions and train medical personnel in the latest international practices.

Russia’s death rate from cancer is twice that in the United States and three times higher for those diagnosed with leukemia, he wrote at the time. Tinkov was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019 and moved to the United Kingdom for treatment.

Tinkov, who owned a retail bank named after himself, was among the first Russian tycoons to publicly criticize the invasion of Ukraine and renounced his citizenship. He was later forced to sell his bank “for pennies” to a Kremlin-friendly tycoon.

As a result of his continued outspoken criticism, the Russian Justice Ministry in February declared Tinkov a “foreign agent,” complicating his ability to fund organizations in Russia. In a post on his Instagram page earlier this month, Tinkov said the designation had forced him to end his leukemia philanthropy work.

He said Russia’s decision to deginate him a foreign agent reflected “the stupidity, savagery, and desperation of today’s Russia.”

Tinkov’s foundation said in a statement that its funding helped provide training to enhance the qualification of more than 20,000 Russian medical workers.

The foundation also said it financed the overhaul of a bone-marrow transplant department in Chelyabinsk, initiated the creation of diagnostic centers in St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, and Yekaterinburg, and opened a master’s degree program in the medical faculty at the St. Petersburg Institute.

Following mass protests against Putin in 2012, Russia adopted the “foreign agent” law to clamp down on civil society. It has repeatedly tightened the law since then with new amendments.

The current version of the law allows the government to designate essentially anyone critical of the Kremlin as a “foreign agent,” a term tantamount to “spy.” Russia has declared hundreds of individuals and civic organizations “foreign agents” over the past 12 years.