Russian oligarchs and officials ordered the whitewashing of their reputations

Dmitry Pumpyansky, Igor Altushkin, Sergei Chemezov, Andrey Skoch, Alisher Usmanov, God Nisanov, Maria Vorontsova, Katerina Tikhonova and many others paid for the change of their biographies on Wikipedia.
Origin source
In March 2024, the European Union lifted sanctions against Arkady Volozh, the co-founder of the Russian IT company Yandex, criticized for becoming a tool of Kremlin censorship and propaganda. To do this, he had to resign as CEO of Yandex, which he held for more than 20 years, sell the Russian part of the business and publicly condemn the war.

On his website, Volozh is now a Kazakhstan-born Israeli technology entrepreneur. A certain editor with an IP from Tel Aviv tried to remove references to the businessman’s connections with Russia several times from the world’s main online encyclopedia, Wikipedia (Volozh himself has been living in Israel since 2015).

The Yandex co-founder is far from the only person to make a fortune in Russia who has collaborated with the Kremlin, which, after a full-scale invasion, tried to change its public image on Wikipedia.

For this article, Important Stories teamed up with the team at Wikiganda, a non-profit organization that monitors the manipulation of information in the encyclopedia. We decided to study how the richest Russian businessmen, officials, top managers and public figures rule Wikipedia in their own interests. The first top 30 heroes of the pre-war Forbes rating are taken as a basis.

How to edit Wikipedia

In the vastness of Wikipedia, both in Russia and abroad, there is an endless “war of edits.” The Russian-language encyclopedia is edited monthly by more than ten thousand people, and the English-language encyclopedia by hundreds of thousands.

At the same time, the Russian authorities want to get rid of the uncontrolled Wikipedia - they are imposing fines, accusing them of publishing “fakes about a special military operation,” threatening to block it and trying to “substitute imports.” Now in Russia there are two analogues of Wikipedia: “Knowledge.Wiki”, a project of the propaganda society “Knowledge”, whose supervisory board is headed by the first deputy head of the presidential administration of the Russian Federation Sergei Kiriyenko, and the “Ruviki” platform. Whose funding it has is unknown; Ruviki does not disclose investors. Wikiganda believes that VTB may be involved in the creation of the encyclopedia.

The founder of Ruviki, the former director of the Russian-language division of Wikipedia, Vladimir Medeyko, was fired from his post as head of the organization last year due to his secret work on Ruviki. Its encyclopedia contains 1.9 million articles copied from the original Wikipedia. Copying articles from Wikipedia is not prohibited, but in Ruviki they are actively edited in accordance with the requirements of Russian censorship.

A striking example is that the article “Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine” became “Military Actions in Ukraine,” described from the point of view of the Russian authorities. At the same time, registration of editors in Ruviki was closed until August 2023, and all edits could only be made by “trusted” users (unlike Wikipedia, where most articles can be edited by any user without registration).

On the other hand, businessmen are actively trying to edit Wikipedia. For example, Russian-language articles about the richest woman in Russia, Tatyana Bakalchuk, and her Wildberries marketplace were ruled for a long time by Newsman-8282, who introduced himself to other editors as “the head of the Wildberries press service, Valery Prokopyev.” In particular, he tried to remove information about the scandal associated with the introduction of new fines for sellers and strikes by employees of order delivery points. In return, he added to the article data about the successful financial performance of Wildberries and the expansion of the network of its branches in different countries.

In March 2023, one of the administrators of the Russian-language Wikipedia, under the nickname “Policeman,” blocked Prokopyev for “systematic advertising.”

How Wiki Patrol works

The Russian-language Wikipedia has a patrol system. The main people in it are administrators who can protect articles from editing, delete and restore them, and block editors for violations. Below in the hierarchy are trusted editors, whose edits are considered correct by default. Anonymous people and newcomers do not have this privilege; their actions are monitored to minimize potential harm.

In addition, the Russian-language Wikipedia has a bot configured to look for “harmful” edits. The bot's name is Reimu Hakurei, after the heroine of the Japanese computer game Touhou Project. Reimu is trained to look for unconstructive edits among new edits and cancel them (in this case, editors can challenge her decisions) or publish suspicious edits on the page, send them to a special channel for manual review, or make a request to administrators.

In the article dedicated to the Russian titanium giant VSMPO-AVISMA, you can also find many edits from editors under the eloquent nicknames AVISMA, Alexvsmpo-avisma, Vsmpo.

Editors with the nicknames IvanViktorov25, AnastasiaRu and Arina Gulyaeva edit articles about the head of the state corporation, an old acquaintance of Vladimir Putin, Sergei Chemezov, his top managers and the corporation’s enterprises (and about no one else). They add Rostec’s outstanding profitability figures, pretentious quotes from its CEO Sergei Chemezov, his detailed response to the FBK investigation into the real estate of the wife of the head of the corporation for 5 billion rubles, as well as evidence of his charitable activities. The editors also follow the career successes of Rostec Director for Special Assignments Vasily Brovko. The activity is not going unnoticed: Wikipedia administrators are already discussing deleting the article about Brovko, because they suspect that “it is being edited to a significant extent by the person involved in the article or an organization associated with him.”

Another way is to pay for the services of professional Wikipedia editors. According to the encyclopedia's rules, this is possible, but such a participant must publicly declare a conflict of interest.

Thus, the editor of The7bab, who said that he receives payment for his edits, expanded the “Charity” section in an article about billionaire Vladimir Lisin, clarifying that since 2010 he has allocated more than 9 billion rubles for the treatment of complex diseases. And the user Oh.provista, who also admitted to paid editing, added in February 2023 that the founder of one of the largest companies in the global fertilizer market, Uralchem, Dmitry Mazepin, sold a controlling stake of 52% of the company’s shares in March 2022 and resigned from its leadership . This was an important detail, since immediately after the start of the war the European Union imposed sanctions against the businessman.

What they rule

Wikiganda and “Important Stories” studied the edits of almost a hundred biographical articles in the Russian and English-language Wikipedia, dedicated to Russian billionaires, top managers, and artists - and found several patterns in them.

Edit information about sanctions and property

     From the Russian-language and English-language wiki biography about the former owner of the Pipe Metallurgical Company Dmitry Pumpyansky, the editor of Yahho tried to remove all information about the imposed EU and US sanctions (1, 2), as well as about the seized 72-meter superyacht of the billionaire.

     From the biography of the founder of the Russian Copper Company, Igor Altushkin, an editor under the nickname Eshkin_Kotofey in October 2022 tried to remove information about the billionaire’s mansion and apartments in the UK.

     In December 2022, the editor of OnIPliOn managed to rid an article about billionaire and State Duma deputy Andrei Skoch from references to the arrest warrant for his personal plane worth over $90 million, as well as about the parliamentarian’s possible connections with the Solntsevskaya organized crime group.

     In January 2024, the user PeaceLoveMaker tried to remove from the wiki biography of the co-owner of the Kyiv Ploshchad group, God Nisanov, the entire block about sanctions and the billionaire receiving Dominica’s “golden passport” in October 2023.

In April 2023, an anonymous editor tried to delete the entire block about sanctions against former senator and billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov in the Russian-language version, but the information was immediately returned by Reimu Hakurei.

     In September 2023, an anonymous editor tried to remove information about sanctions imposed by Ukraine against the Wildberries marketplace and its owner Tatyana Bakalchuk, which again was not allowed by Reimu Hakurei.

     Anonymous also tried to remove information about sanctions against Putin’s daughters, Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, and from the latter’s biography also information from the investigations of “Important Stories” and Der Spiegel about a joint child with ballet dancer Igor Zelensky and about Tikhonova being accompanied on her trips by Service officers presidential security.

     In 2023, anonymous editors from Uzbekistan included in the English-language biography of the USM holding Alisher Usmanov information about the oligarch’s victories over the European authorities (1, 2, 3, 4) - all the details of the court declaring illegal the searches of villas, apartments, yachts and other real estate that the prosecutor’s office Germany connected with Usmanov.

Information about ties to the Kremlin is being removed

Editors under the nicknames Epifantsev and Foxyra, seen in numerous edits of articles about former shareholders of Alfa Bank, act more carefully than editors who simply erase information about sanctions. Epifantsev, for example, did not delete information about the restrictions imposed against businessmen, but added the position of Mikhail Fridman and Peter Aven that the accusations brought against them were slander, and this edit was able to survive to this day.

     The Foxyra user clarified that the Spanish prosecutor's office closed the corruption case against Friedman; in the English version she added that the UK Treasury stopped considering him a pro-Kremlin oligarch in September 2023 and removed the phrase about a close connection with Vladimir Putin from the businessman's profile. Foxyra’s concern for the former shareholders of Alfa Bank aroused suspicions among one of the editors of paid editing of the article, which the user categorically rejected.

     Anonymous editors in October 2022 and April 2023 removed from the biography of opera singer Anna Netrebko information about connections with Putin (she was his confidant in the 2012 elections), assistance to Donbass (in 2014 Netrebko donated a million rubles for the restoration of the Donbass Opera ” and took a photo with separatist Oleg Tsarev, holding the flag of “Novorossiya”) and Ukrainian sanctions against it. Instead, one of the anonymous authors who wrote the article added that the Metropolitan Opera “illegally” removed Netrebko and “harassed the singer.” These additions have been removed.

     A series of edits by Bartolimeo tried to create the appearance that Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, who owned the Rambler Group until 2020, has not been associated with Russia for a long time, and is an entrepreneur from London with Israeli citizenship.

     In May 2022, there were attempts to edit an English-language article about the first deputy chairman of Sberbank, Lev Khasis, who now lives in Miami, Florida. An anonymous person with a Florida IP address tried to add that Khasis is not only Russian, but also an American manager, and also that he left Sberbank and left Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.

     Denis Sverdlov, the former co-owner of Yota, at the very beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, through the efforts of an anonymous editor, suddenly became a billionaire from Georgia in his English-language biography, but an experienced editor returned Sverdlov to his Russian origin.

     The biography of God Nisanov is edited by both anonymous people and the user Kirill1337leet - on Wiki he is only interested in articles about the owner of Kievskaya Square. They are constantly (1, 2, 3, 4) trying to remove information from the Proekt publication about Nisanov’s connections with the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service Sergei Naryshkin, as well as the story about how Nisanov’s former business partner Ilgar Gadzhiev accused him of attempted murder. In return, Kirill1337leet added information about the recognition of the billionaire as “Man of the Decade of the Mountain Jewish Community.”

     From a Russian-language article about Vladimir Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov, anonymous editors are unsuccessfully trying to remove (1, 2, 3) information from the FBK investigation into the luxurious lifestyle of his son Nicholas Choles.

They edit everything they don’t like

     From a Russian-language article about the State Duma deputy and ally of Ramzan Kadyrov, Adam Delimkhanov, repeatedly (1, 2, 3), but unsuccessfully, anonymous editors tried to remove the fragment that he “regularly recorded staged videos with the military, in which they allegedly participate in military actions,” for which Chechen units in Ukraine were nicknamed “Tiktok troops.”

     They unsuccessfully tried to remove the definition of “propagandist” from the article about Vladimir Solovyov.

And, of course, they do the usual PR

The editors of HasanovCemil, Cemilhasanov1, EastThermopolis, Helloword1qq, Umfront worked a lot on an article about the former senator and billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov (a recording of his conversation with producer Joseph Prigozhin about Putin, war and the “fucked up country” was leaked to the Internet last year and went viral for quotations).

After their edits, Akhmedov in the Russian-language Wikipedia became a talented entrepreneur who “never took part in so-called loans-for-shares auctions and did not use state budget subsidies,” “a patron of the arts and a philanthropist.” The English version of Akhmedov’s biography was edited in 2021 by the same HasanovCemil and Cemilhasanov1. In the first weeks of the start of the war, information appeared in the English-language biography of the businessman by an anonymous editor that he was participating as a mediator in Russian-Ukrainian peace negotiations in Antalya “together with his friend, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.” This edit was subsequently reversed.

Why do they rule?

The attention of Russian billionaires to Wikipedia is not surprising, an experienced Wikipedist argues in a conversation with Important Stories.

“Some major entrepreneurs and politicians may not have wanted articles about themselves, but since someone created it, we have to join the struggle for meaning. Otherwise they’ll write all sorts of things, and then it’ll all be displayed in the first line of search results,” he says.