The ultra-rich in post-Soviet countries are often labeled as oligarchs, a term of Greek origin that can be loosely translated as “the rule of few”. While the word has become contested in connection with the Russian war in Ukraine and heightened scrutiny of Russia’s ultra-wealthy, it is true that Russian billionaires are extraordinarily rich compared to the size of the economy of the country that generated that wealth.
Some of that money has since evaporated, an analysis of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index shows, as Russian stock markets dropped significantly on the news of the invasion and a selloff of Russian assets happened around the world.
This chart shows billionaire’s wealth as a share of GDP in selected countries.
Yet, Russia’s billionaire wealth compared to GDP was still higher as of March 3 than in the U.S., Canada and several European countries. A look at the figure from February 23, when billionaire wealth still stood at almost 21% of Russian GDP, shows how extraordinary the standing of the Russian ultra-wealthy class really is.
According to reports by The Economist, around 85% of Russian billionaire wealth can be attributed to the so-called crony sector, where associates of those in political power are given lucrative positions in business or hold on to them by making concessions to or deals with politicians. Russian President Vladimir Putin has used this class of the loyal and influential to cement his power for years. Out of the country’s richest mentioned on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Gennady Timchenko, who controls investment firm Volga Group, appeared on the UK sanctions list while Petr Aven of ABH Holdings, Mikhail Fridman of Alfa Group and Alisher Usmanov of Metalloinvest were being sanctioned by the EU.
Billionaires richer than U.S. counterparts?
The U.S. also exhibited an extraordinarily high billionaire wealth at between 14-15% of GDP. But despite the fact that the United States is home to 35% of all the billionaires listed on the Bloomberg index, including the top 9 individuals with net worths between $97 billion and $226 billion, Russian billionaires were still richer in comparison to their country’s economic output.
France, India and Canada also ranked high on the wealth-to-GDP comparison, driven by extremely wealthy individuals that stick out a mile compared to other billionaires in their countries. These are Bernard Arnault of LVMH (net worth $149 billion) and L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers ($77 billion) in France, Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani ($90 billion) and port operations tycoon Gautam Adani ($86 billion) in India and Changpeng Zhao of Binance ($77 billion) in Canada. The second-richest Canadian, Sherry Brydson of investment firm Woodbridge, which controls Thomson Reuters, only has a net worth of $13 billion.
Other countries which lack these peak-wealth individuals tend to have lower billionaire-net-worth-to-GDP ratios—for example Germany (7% ratio), the UK (4%) or Japan (1.8%).
China’s rate still modest
Despite China’s massive economic output, the richest Chinese, bottled water magnate Zhong Shanshan, only has $74 billion to his name. The second-richest Chinese, Zhang Yiming of of TikTok owner Bytedance, has a net worth of only $45 billion, contributing to the country’s modest result of a 6.4% billionaire-wealth-to-GDP ratio.
Second-ranked Sweden, on the other hand, has an outsized number of very wealthy individuals from the worlds of business and aristocracy living in a small country. The money that controls global businesses like H&M, Securitas and Tetra Pak resides here. The Ikea fortunes were dispersed after founder Ingvar Kamprad died in 2018.
The ratios presented in the chart are based on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index which shows the 500 richest individuals in the world, most recently including individuals of a net worth of around $5.4 billion and upwards.

Charted by Statista

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