Duncan Mackay

The number of countries calling upon Vladimir Lisin to step down as President of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), even temporarily, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is growing.

Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Germany, Britain, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and United States are among countries to have sent letters to the ISSF calling on Lisin and its secretary Alexander Ratner, who is also Russian, to vacate their posts.

"For the sake of the sport, its integrity and reputation, we had hoped that the ISSF executives, employees, committee members and officials from the countries of Russia and Belarus would voluntarily resign from their posts given the negative effect their continued leadership could have on our sport in the international sport community," Sandra Honour, President of the Shooting Federation of Canada, wrote to the ISSF in a letter seen by insidethegames. 

But, unlike fellow Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov at the International Fencing Federation, the 65-year-old Lisin has shown no sign that he is listening.

The main difference with Usmanov is that Lisin has not yet been placed on any sanctions list, despite being chairman and majority shareholder of Novolipetsk (NLMK), one of the four largest steel companies in Russia, and the country’s richest man with a wealth estimated by Forbes at $26.6 billion (£20.3 billion/ €24.4 billion).

Lisin has seen billions of dollars wiped off his wealth since the invasion. In the latest Forbes rankings, published yesterday, Lisin’s assets are now estimated at $18.4 billion (£14.1 billion/€16.9 billion), a drop of 30 per cent from a year ago, although he has regained his position at the top of the Russian wealth charts.

Vladimir Lisin has lost 30 per cent of his wealth in the last year but is still Russia's richest man worth $18.4 billion ©Getty Images
Vladimir Lisin has lost 30 per cent of his wealth in the last year but is still Russia's richest man worth $18.4 billion ©Getty Images

Lisin is the classic rags-to-riches story having started his career as a welder in a coal mine in 1975 before working his way up to deputy manager of one of Kazakhstan's largest steel plants after attending university.

Much of his wealth was earned after coming out on top in often violent battles, known as the "aluminium wars", of nearly 30 years ago, as oligarchs fought each other to gain control of steel, aluminium and copper plants.

As a junior partner of the powerful Cherney brothers, Mikhail and Lev, Lisin helped their TransWorldGroup (TWG), a metals trader with links to the political elite in President Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, gain control of some of the country’s most lucrative metals assets.

As TWG’s fortunes faded and partners began to quarrel at the end of the 1990s, he set himself to acquiring one of the country’s most modern steel plants, in Lipetsk.

He had to fight another round of battles, including with nickel king Vladimir Potanin, and buy out a large stake from United States financier George Soros to finally gain control over Lipetsk.

Lipetsk, later renamed NLMK, floated on the stock exchange in London in 2005, and as it became a big steel exporter to China and, as its profits soared, so did the personal wealth of Lisin.

Lisin’s most demonstrable sign of his wealth, unlike some other Russian oligarchs who have invested in mega-yachts and Premier League football clubs, is linked to his passion for shooting. In 2005, he spent £6.8 million ($8.9 million/€8.1 million) buying the 16th-century Aberuchill Castle in Scotland through a company based in the British Virgin Islands.

Aberuchill, described as a perfect Highland retreat, is spread over 3,300 acres of heather-clad hills and grouse moor overlooking Loch Earn, offering grouse-shooting, deerstalking and game fishing.

Inside the immaculately decorated interior are five sumptuous reception rooms, a billiards room and 13 bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. Around a dozen estate houses and cottages, a farm and 704 acres of forestry complete the picture.

The 16th-century Aberuchill Castle in Scotland is used by Vladimir Lisin as his personal shooting ground ©Visit Scotland
The 16th-century Aberuchill Castle in Scotland is used by Vladimir Lisin as his personal shooting ground ©Visit Scotland

Lisin’s name means "fox" in Russian, and it has been claimed that the phenomenal success of the multi-billionaire can be explained by the fact that he has never upset Vladimir Putin or the Kremlin.

That could be changing, however. Last month, he wrote to his company’s staff condemning the war in a letter shared on social media. The steel tycoon wrote that "the death of people in Ukraine is a tragedy that is hard to justify or explain."

In the letter, Lisin expressed hope that the war would end soon, and urged Putin and other leaders to find a peaceful, diplomatic resolution.

Earlier this week, Lisin warned that a key part of Putin’s plan to push back against Western sanction by demanding roubles for exports, including gas, will undermine the country’s position on global markets.

"We’ve been developing relations with thousands of clients in 70 countries," he said in an interview with Russian business newspaper Kommersant, which coincidently is owned by Usmanov. "It’s hard to imagine what would convince our buyers to switch to settlements in roubles and incur currency risks.

"Logistics problems have already complicated delivery of goods. Switching to payments in roubles will just throw us out of international markets."

A few hours before the interview appeared, Lisin had posted a bizarre message on Facebook, which he then took down and re-posted several hours later. "Greatest calamity!" he wrote. "Grief and indignation. We have been doing and will be doing the right thing! But meanness and trade in tragedy among us also took place. You understand what I mean and who it is about."

The post was widely interpreted as being further criticism of Putin and the war he has launched in Ukraine.

It was not the first eccentric thing Lisin had done recently.

Vladimir Lisin's Facebook post was interpreted as being further criticism of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the war he has launched in Ukraine ©Vladimir Lisin ISSF/Facebook
Vladimir Lisin's Facebook post was interpreted as being further criticism of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the war he has launched in Ukraine ©Vladimir Lisin ISSF/Facebook

Last month, former Scottish politician Andy Wightman shared details of a sign Lisin had erected on his estate. Under "Welcome to Aberuchill", it included the distance to kilometres to a number of destinations that Lisin has links with.

The first was Ivanovo, a city about 150 miles northeast of Moscow, and Lisin's place of birth.

The second, Novokuznetsk, a city of around 500,000 people in southwestern Siberia is where Lisin has his largest Russian steel plant.

The third, Temirtau, is a city in Kazakhstan where the oligarch has an interest in another metal plant.

The fourth was Moscow, while the fifth Foxlodge is the personal shooting range built by Lisin around 30 miles outside Russia’s capital and which was scheduled to stage the European Championships this August before it was moved following the invasion of Ukraine.

The sixth destination on the sign is "future". It is listed as being "infinite kilometres" away from Aberuchill. The meaning of this is unclear.

In what is perhaps a sign of the Kremlin’s anger at Lisin’s criticism of the war in Ukraine, last month the Ministry of Sport announced that the Shooting Union of Russia had had its state accreditation suspended "in connection with the failure to present a programme for the development of the sport".

Lisin had led Russia’s national governing body for several years until he stepped down in 2018 following his election as ISSF President. He was replaced by his hand-picked successor Anna Leshchikova, who Lisin had previously arranged to join the ISSF ruling Council. She is currently the de-facto office director of the ISSF and ensures there is a powerful Russian grip on the ISSF along with Lisin and Ratner.

Lisin is due to stand for re-election at the ISSF General Assembly in Cairo on November 30 but there are growing calls from a number of countries for an emergency meeting to discuss his position.

But Lisin’s huge wealth gives him a massive safety net until the international Olympic Committee makes it clear it wants Russian officials to step away from International Federations they are involved with.

Immediately after his election four years ago, Lisin established a "Development Fund" with $10 million (£7.7 million/€9.2 million) of his own money for "Member Federations that need assistance in developing the shooting sport in their countries". That kind of "assistance" can buy a lot of loyalty.

Many people are surprised that so far, the United States, European Union or United Kingdom have not placed Lisin on any of its sanctions list. It has been claimed that Lisin’s close connections with the Belgian Royal Family may be helping him avoid being targeted. He is believed to have business interests with Prince Lorenz, the husband of Princess Astrid and brother-in-law of King Philippe.

Lisin is currently able to travel freely around the world on a diplomatic passport issued by San Marino, where he has been Russia’s honorary consul since 2002. The position proves an official link with the Russian Government, something Ratner had denied last month when Norway made it clear that Lisin would not be welcome to attend the European Shooting Championships in Hamar.

Shortly following the invasion of Ukraine, Putin placed San Marino on a list of "hostile countries" after it aligned itself with the European Union. Another Kremlin black mark for Lisin.

It seems increasingly, though, that despite being one of the few oligarchs prepared to criticise Putin publicly, it is not going to silence calls for Lisin to step down at the ISSF.