How Russian oligarchs Rotenberg acquired chemical industry of Ukrainian oligarch Firtash in Crimea

Ротенберг Фирташ

Before the 2022 Russian invasion, titanium factory in Crimean Armiansk owned by Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash has been the largest manufacturer of titanium dioxide in Eastern Europe. Despite international sanctions and Russian occupation of Crimean peninsula, it has been sold to Russian company at the end of 2021. The Center for Journalist Investigations found out that the titanium factory is now owned by Russian entities closely connected with Russian oligarchs and Putin’s friends – brothers Rotenberg.

This article explores the way the Crimean titanium factory was removed from the Ukrainian jurisdiction and identifies companies to be included into sanction lists and subjected to criminal investigations.

Despite Russian occupation of Crimea and introduction of Western sector sanctions, Armiansk titanium factory kept using the Ukrainian raw materials. Ilmenite concentrate, mined at Zhytomyr ore deposits and enriched at state Irshansk Mining and Processing Plant, has been supplied to Armiansk factory by railways and then by sea. This «Ilmenite scheme» of Firtash was uncovered by a number of journalist investigations but no reaction from Ukrainian authorities followed. As an outcome, titanium dioxide was illegally exported from Crimea to Russia, in order to satisfy needs of Russian enterprises (titanium dioxide is not manufactured in Russia).

President Petro Poroshenko and his governments held protective «umbrella» above Dmytro Firtash and his Crimean factories. In 2021, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine and President Zelensky imposed sanctions on Firtash and his company «Valky-Ilmenite» which extracted ilmenite ore in Zhytomyr region. The State Geology and Natural Resources Service cancelled its special permit on large but not developed ore deposit «Stremygorodske». However, extraction of the ore on other deposits continued.

In December 2021, Group DF informed about the sale of Armiansk titanium factory to company «Russian Titanium». The sale was conducted despite sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine which blocked assets of Firtash. Group DF did not apply for the permit for concentration to the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine. It did not pay off the debts to the Pension Fund of Ukraine and credits (property of Crimean titanium factory was used as collateral).

Armiansk factory was bought by the Russian limited liability company in Barnaul, with statutory capital of 10 thousand Rubles and status of micro-enterprise. It has never been involved into titanium production. It has been registered in Soviet multi-story building. Businessman Igor Bulatov was indicated as its founder. It seemed that the company was shell company and transaction was fake.

Building in Barnaul where limited liability company «Russian Titanium» registered – the buyer of Firtash’s titanium factory in Crimea. Photo:

After our investigation, the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine informed about beginning of its own investigation of the sale of Firtash’s assets. The CJI and Antitrust League asked the Committee to investigate possible violations of the legislation protecting economic competition. The Committee never published results of its investigation.

Let us explore how the ownership of Armiansk titanium factory changed: from Barnaul shell company «Russian Titanium» to companies connected with Putin’s friends – oligarchs Arkadii and Borys Rotenberg. They control the factory of Firtash today.

Group DF informed about the sale of Crimean movable and immovable property of JSC «Ukrainian Chemical Products» on December 31, 2021.

The ownership structure of Barnaul «Russian Titanium» changed on February 11, 2022. Igor Bulatov lost its status of founder and owner. Russian limited liability companies «Titanium Investments» and «Titanium Technologies» (Titanovye tekhnologii) became new owners of Barnaul intermediary company. They are linked to Mr. Firtash. In their turn, they are founded by Cypriote companies Letan Investments Limited and Pegma Ventures Limited. They share two directors – Moscow resident Aleksei Obidin and Crimean resident Oleg Panasuk.

Russian joint stock company «Bashkir Soda Company» promised to invest 20 billion Rubles into titanium production in Crimean Armiansk. It is among largest manufacturers of soda ash. After four months downtime, the titanium factory resumed its work.

Packing of titanium dioxide at the factory of JSC «Ukrainian Chemical Products» in Armiansk, occupied Crimea. Photo: Youtube Крыминформ

In May 2022, JSC «Russian Hydrogen» became managing company of LLC «Titanium Investments» and in July 2022 – its founder. At the same time, 99% of statutory capital of the company is owned by LLC «Titanaktiv». Earlier «Titanaktiv» was owned by Firtash’s manager Aleksandr Emelin. Later «Titanaktiv» became a daughter company of «Russian Hydrogen».

JSC «Russian Hydrogen» has been the holder of Crimean assets of «Ukrainian Chemical Products» as collateral before the sale of Armiansk factory. It confirms our version that titanium factory was not sold but transferred, in order to pay off the credit debts of 94 million USD. It seems that «Russian Hydrogen» was created in February 2021 to service this deal.

State owned «Bashkir Soda Company» and private «Russian Hydrogen» share one general director – Eduard Davydov. «Russian Hydrogen» declared ambitious plans. It is going to create chemical holding under its management. It is supposed that Russian 18 large chemical enterprises in seven regions will join the holding. It is understandable that mega-projects of such a kind are impossible in Russia without approval or order of Putin. It is remarkable that private «Bashkir Soda Company» has been nationalized after Putin accused its owners of tax avoidance. After nationalization, the company was headed by Davydov in July 2019.

«Russian Hydrogen» has not yet succeeded in gathering almost twenty factories and companies into the giant holding. Eduard Davydov presented the concept of «cluster development» of the Russian chemical industry at the business forum at the end of 2022. He said that «Russian Hydrogen» already united seven factories. Two Crimean titanium and soda factories owned by Firtash were among them, as can be seen at Davydov’s presentation slide.

Referring to its own sources, Russian newspaper «Kommersant» informed last year that «Russian Hydrogen» was developed by Russian oligarchs Rotenberg. But their official representative did not confirm it. In Russia, it is not allowed to publish data about shareholders that is why there is no documentary evidence of this hypothesis. However, some facts and connections do support it.

In September 2022, the founder of JSC «Russian Hydrogen» changed. Physical person Stanislav Tikhonov was replaced by LLC «Managing company «FIN-partner» (Russian taxpayer’s code is 7721802356). LLC «Centre-M» has been its founder since 2020 (its taxpayer’s code is 7702655025). In its turn, «Centre-M» is owned by Vladimir Doinikov (almost all capital) and Maria Lukianova (0,05% share), in accordance with the Russian State Register of Legal Entities.

Managing company «FIN-partner» manages thirty closed investment funds. In Russia, they are used to hide real owners of luxury estate. «Closed investment fund combined «Ters» is among these investment funds managed by «FIN-partner». «Ters» has become famous during independent investigations of the sale of Crimean resort institutions occupied by Russia.

In 2018, occupation government of Crimea sold the most famous sanatoriums of the Southern Coast of Crimea for next to nothing: «Dulber», «Mishor» and «Ai-Petri». Russian LLC «Managing company of infrastructural projects» («UKIP») won the this «auction» (its participants were companies connected with each other). Colonel General Vladimir Zaritsky, ex-Commander of Russian Missile Forces and Artillery, has been the founder of «UKIP». Next year he was replaced by investment fund «Ters».

In 2021, the official representative of Arkadii Rotenberg told RBK that oligarch has been the owner of sanatoriums «Dulber», «Mishor» and «Ai-Petri» as well as other two Crimean resort complexes «Pearl» and «Rakhmaninov’s Dacha». He planned to invest 15 billion Rubles into their development. This is how information about Rotenberg as the main holder of closed investment fund «Ters» leaked.

Today «Managing company «Vizant Group» manages stolen Ukrainian sanatoriums «Dulber», «Mishor» and «Ai-Petri». In August 2021, Arkadii Rotenberg became its founder, replacing fund «Ters».

Palace of sanatorium «Dulber», Koreiz village, Great Yalta. Photo:

Let us explore other parts of «Russian Hydrogen» scheme. Company «Centre-M», the founder of managing company «FIN-partner», has close connections with Putin’s friends, too. Before 2012, it was directly owned by Arkadii and Borys Rotenberg. Since 2012 it has been owned by Vladimir Doinikov, the trusted person of Rotenberg. Earlier he headed the unit of their «SMP-Bank».

In accordance with the Russian State Register, 100% share of «Centre-M» in LLC «FIN-partner» has been collateral since 2015. The holder of collateral is «Moscow oblast bank». This bank is part of «SMP-Bank» Group. 93% of bank shares are owned by Arkadii and Borys Rotenberg.

Thus, all companies involved into ownership structure of «Russian Hydrogen» are closely connected with brothers-oligarchs. They are connected not only through founders and managers. They all share responsibility for the war crime – stealing Ukrainian assets on the territory occupied by Russia. They all violated sanction regime imposed on Crimea. They are affiliated with oligarchs Rotenberg who were sanctioned by Ukraine and foreign countries. That is why these companies should by sanctioned by EU, USA, Great Britain and other countries.

There is a probability that legal entities from Kazakhstan will be also dragged into the Rotenbergs’ orbit. Eduard Davydov, the General Director of «Russian Hydrogen» and «Bashkir Soda Company», informed that two ilmenite ore deposits were bought in Kazakhstan and that they would supply the ore to the titanium factory in Crimea. We hope that imposing international sanctions on all companies connected to Rotenberg will destroy these plans.

Video version of journalist investigation – in the program «Issues of the National Security» with Valentyna Samar.