He has money, media power and the ear of President Vladimir Putin. Such is his influence that some observers have described Yuri Kovalchuk as the Rupert Murdoch of Russia.

Kovalchuk is one of an elite group close to Putin and has come to prominence outside Russia because he was sanctioned by the United States in March. The U.S. Treasury described him then as the "personal banker for senior officials of the Russian Federation including Putin."

After the sanctions were imposed, Kovalchuk gave a rare television interview in Russia and shrugged off their impact. He said the sanctions had backfired and spurred support for his banking business.