Newly-leaked documents show that the Kremlin invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Twitter and Facebook through the Russian-American billionaire tech investor, Yuri Milner.
According to the “Paradise Papers” — a trove of more than 13 million internal documents released Sunday that show how the world’s wealthiest use offshore tax havens — two Russian state-owned entities with close ties to Vladimir Putin invested money into Facebook and Twitter through Milner.
Milner also currently holds a stake in a real-estate project that was founded and is partially owned by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law. When Kushner first joined the Trump administration, he failed to disclose his holdings in the project.
Russia’s state-owned VTB Bank gave Milner $191 million to invest in Twitter, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which obtained the Paradise Papers. The bank, according to The New York Times, frequently embarks on “politically strategic deals.”
Documents also show that Gazprom Investholding, the financial arm of the Russian state-operated energy firm Gazprom, backed a company affiliated with Milner which owned approximately $1 billion in Facebook stock shortly before it went public in 2012.
Gazprom is one of Russia’s largest energy companies and Putin is said to wield significant influence over the firm, which is stacked with the Russian leader’s allies and associates.
When all was said and done, Milner owned roughly 8% of Facebook and 5% of Twitter, according to The Times. He sold his holdings in both social-media companies years ago, and there is no evidence that he was connected to Russia’s widespread propaganda campaign on the two platforms during the 2016 election. He also told the ICIJ that he was not aware of Gazprom Invest Holding involvement in his investments, and that none of his deals were related to politics.
Despite that, revelations that two major Russian state-owned entities pursued financial interests in Facebook and Twitter do bear some significance.
“Kremlin-connected institutions make investments with strategic interests in mind — not just commercial interests but state interests as well,” Michael Carpenter, who served as Russia director on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told The Times on Sunday. “They go hand in hand.”
Carpenter added that Russian oligarchs who receive financial support from Russian banks must be above a certain “political threshold, meaning such support requires the explicit or tacit approval of those at the top of Russia’s crony capitalist system.”
Facebook and Twitter have taken center stage in recent weeks, particularly after it emerged in September that Russian “trolls” used the platforms to organize divisive rallies and spread misinformation to sow discord among the American public leading up to the election. Last week, lawyers representing the two companies and Google testified before the House and Senate intelligence committees about Russia’s election meddling.
As part of their investigation into Russia’s interference, congressional intelligence committees and the FBI are also looking into whether the Russians had help from any members of the Trump campaign. Brad Parscale, who served as the campaign’s digital director, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session in late October.
Kushner, who managed the campaign’s data operation along with Parscale, is also a subject of interest to the committees and to special counsel Robert Mueller.