France bestows rare honor on Russian wealth fund chief amid wider sanctions

  • The Order of the Legion of Honor (Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur) is the oldest French national order, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
  • Belonging to the Order is the highest distinction and honor in France; it is awarded by the president for outstanding service.

France has bestowed one of its highest honors on Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, for his contribution to strengthening cooperation between Russia and France.

Dmitriev, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) that has $10 billion of reserved capital under management, was awarded the title of the “Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honor,” by French President Emmanuel Macron, RDIF announced Friday.

The Order of the Legion of Honor (Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur) is the oldest French national order, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. Belonging to the Order is the highest distinction and honor in France; it is awarded by the president for outstanding service.

The award comes after several years of joint investment projects between France and Russia since 2013 with RDIF promoting the development of French companies in Russia and the entry of Russian companies into the French market.

“I am grateful to the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, for his recognition and such a high appreciation of RDIF’s contribution to strengthening bilateral relations between Russia and France,” Dmitriev said in a statement from RDIF.

“This award is a reflection of the progress we have achieved through investment cooperation in recent years, as well as an incentive for further proactive work.”

Encore une fois

The award from France comes amid more punitive actions toward other Russian entities and individuals from the U.S. and Europe, relating to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its perceived role in a pro-Russian uprising in Ukraine in the same year.

RDIF’s management was added to the U.S. Treasury’s Russia-related sanctions list in 2015 because it was then a part of state-owned development bank Vnesheconombank, which itself was targeted with sanctions. In 2016, RDIF was transferred to the Russian state, however and its CEO Dmitriev has not been added to any sanctions lists.

Such lists remain in place but have been subjected to increasing criticism from Russia’s allies, although France has been among those saying that sanctions should not be lifted unless there was progress on Ukraine. EU sanctions against Russia, related to Ukraine, were extended in September by six months; these currently apply to 155 persons and 44 entities.

    Speaking to CNBC in May, Dmitriev remarked that sanctions are “ridiculous” but foreign investment in Russia has been negatively affected by sanctions.

    RDIF’s investment projects with France have included a 250 million euro ($286 million) investment in French company Arc International, a manufacturer of glassware, and a 15 million euro investment in French biotech group Olmix. Both of these have production facilities in Russia. There has also been a partnership with French medical rehabilitation company Orpea to develop private rehabilitation centers in Russia.

    It’s not the first award for Dmitriev. In 2017, he was awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky (an order of merit bestowed on civil servants for 20 years or more of highly meritorious service) by Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his contribution to “facilitating international investment projects and his contribution to the socio-economic development of Russia.”

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