Two of Russia’s most prominent oligarchs have spoken out against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in a major turning point in public reaction to the war.
Criticism from billionaires Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Fridman a blow to Putin, who has long relied on the loyalty of the business elite
Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska on Monday said it was time to put an end to “all this state capitalism” and change policies as the country’s economy reeled from the effects of Western sanctions over Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.
“It is necessary to change the economic policy, it is necessary to end all this state capitalism,” Deripaska said on messaging app Telegram, demanding “explanations” from officials on what was going to happen to the economy in the next three months.
“If this is a real crisis then we need real crisis managers and not fantasists with a bunch of silly presentations,” said the 54-year-old.
“Unlike in 2014, it will not be possible to sit this out now,” Deripaska said, referring to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and the subsequent introduction of Western sanctions.
The billionaire owner of Premier League football club Chelsea, Roman Abramovich, has been involved in ending the crisis, his spokeswoman said.
“I can confirm that Roman Abramovich was contacted by the Ukrainian side for support in achieving a peaceful resolution and that he has been trying to help ever since,” she said.
“Considering what is at stake, we would ask for understanding as to why we have not commented on neither the situation as such nor his involvement.”
The Russian-Israeli billionaire announced on Saturday that he was handing the “stewardship and care” of Chelsea to the trustees of the club’s charitable foundation. But he will remain as owner.
Another billionaire, banker Oleg Tinkov, spoke out directly against the war.
“In Ukraine, innocent people are dying every day, this is unthinkable and unacceptable!” he said on Instagram.
“States should be spending money on treating people, on research to defeat cancer, and not on war. We are against this war!”
As Western governments tighten their squeeze on Russia’s economy following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, capitals also have their sights on Moscow’s wealthy elite and its assets abroad, seen by experts as a way of sapping President Vladimir Putin’s power.
Ukrainian-born Fridman sent an email to staff at LetterOne, first reported by the Financial Times, in which he wrote that “war can never be the answer”.
Describing his Ukrainian roots in Lviv, where his parents still live, he wrote: “I have also spent much of my life as a citizen of Russia, building and growing businesses. I am deeply attached to Ukrainian and Russian peoples and see the current conflict as a tragedy for them both.”
Deripaska called for peace talks to begin “as fast as possible” in a post on the messaging app Telegram.
“Peace is very important,” wrote Deripaska, who founded the Russian aluminium giant Rusal, in which he still owns a stake through shares in its London-listed parent company EN+ Group.
Deripaska, who said as recently as 21 February there would not be a war in Ukraine, has been on the US sanctions list since 2018 over his alleged links to the Russian government, which he has taken legal action to challenge.
Fridman was ranked as the 128th richest person in the world in 2021, according to the publication Forbes’ world billionaire list.
The 57-year-old told staff in his letter that he usually avoids making political statements.
“I am a businessman with responsibilities to my many thousands of employees in Russia and Ukraine. I am convinced however that war can never be the answer. This crisis will cost lives and damage two nations who have been brothers for hundreds of years,” he wrote.
“While a solution seems frighteningly far off, I can only join those whose fervent desire is for the bloodshed to end.”
Fridman’s LetterOne owns assets in its L1 Retail unit including the UK health food retailer Holland & Barrett, as well as Spain’s supermarket chain DIA and the mobile phone service provider Turkcell, which has customers in Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Cyprus.
Fridman and Deripaska join a small group of prominent Russians – including popular actors, musicians and television presenters – who have called on President Vladimir Putin stop the military operation in Ukraine, although many Russian oligarchs have remained silent.
Intervention may begin to put pressure on Moscow’s elite from the worlds of business and finance to voice their opposition to Putin’s invasion.
The country’s wealthiest people are expected to face significant economic upheaval as sanctions against Russia mount, including the expulsion of several Russian banks from the Swift global banking payments system, designed to disconnect the country from international finance.i