As Russian sanctions escalate, several oligarchs speak out against war in Ukraine


Several Russian oligarchs are rushing to distance themselves from Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Western countries threaten to cut their holdings with an unprecedented sanctions campaign.

In recent days, a parade of Russian businessmen has reinforced their anti-war stances as governments tighten the noose around Kremlin-linked businesses and properties. Unsanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich said he was helping Ukraine negotiate peace with Russia. Oleg Tinkov, the billionaire founder of Russian bank Tinkoff, a unit of TCS Group Holding PLC, highlighted his foundation’s work to help children and his desire to have no war. Nor was Mr. Tinkov sanctioned. Oleg Deripaska, a commodity tycoon who has already been sanctioned in the United States, wrote on social media on Sunday that peace “is very important”.

“Please don’t make the equal sign between the Russians, the Russian state and the government of [the] Russian Federation. Many Russians strongly oppose the current military action, and I am one of them,” said Andrey Yakunin, founder of private equity group VIY Management and son of Vladimir Yakunin, former chairman of OAO Russian Railways. The elder Mr. Yakunin was sanctioned in the United States a few years ago.

Oleg Tinkov, the billionaire founder of the Russian bank Tinkoff, highlighted the work done by his foundation to help children.


Photo:

maxim shemetov/Reuters

Events in Ukraine last week broke a delicate pact between Western governments and Russian businessmen. For years, the West tolerated funneling billions of dollars from the ruins of the Soviet Union into high-end real estate, business and art. The benefit to governments has been a massive investment by many of these people, which has boosted local economies. Western governments are now hoping that punishing a well-connected group of people with deep ties to Russia will in turn put pressure on Mr Putin.

The European Union said late Monday it had added 26 senior Russian officials and businessmen to its sanctions list, freezing their assets and imposing travel bans. The UK is expected to sanction more oligarchs in the coming days. Even Monaco, famous for its generous tax rules and status as a playground for the wealthy, said it was cracking down on sanctioned Russians.

Britain’s parliament will pass legislation in the coming weeks to force anonymous foreign owners of British property to reveal their identities and strengthen provisions to freeze the assets of suspected kleptocrats who cannot prove the origin of their wealth.

France on Tuesday announced the creation of a task force to track down sanctioned Russian oligarchs and their families’ assets in the country. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the French state was exploring ways not just to freeze the assets, but to seize them. “When we seize it, it means you lose ownership of that apartment, that yacht or that house,” said the Mayor, adding that the West was waging “an all-out economic and financial war against Russia. “.

In response, Dimity Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, tweeted: “Watch your language, gentlemen! And do not forget that in the history of mankind, economic wars have often turned into real wars. Mr Le Maire later said his use of the word “war” was inappropriate.

A powerful coalition of democracies has announced that it will cut off some Russian banks from the Swift global payment system. Here’s how Swift works and how the move could increase pressure on Russian President Putin. Photo: Anton Vaganov/Reuters

Lawyers warn that political rhetoric may not match legal reality. “This is all going to be hugely litigious,” said Olivier Dorgans, economic sanctions lawyer at Ashurst. Authorities are going to have to prove that those sanctioned own these assets, a potentially difficult task because many of them are held by opaque ownership structures, he said. In reality, few assets are likely to be seized, he said.

For some targeted Russians, the response is already underway. Mikhail Fridman, one of the founders of Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank, was sanctioned by the EU on Monday evening. The EU said it had cultivated close ties with Mr Putin and acquired state assets through those relationships. Mr. Fridman said he would challenge the designation and that he has no political or financial ties to Mr. Putin.

“It seems to me that we’ve done a lot of good things, invested in companies, created a lot of jobs,” Fridman said on Tuesday, clapping his hand on the conference table in front of him as he spoke. during a press conference. from the office of his private equity firm in London. “We will advocate to protect our reputation.”

Last week, Mr Fridman criticized the war in Ukraine in an email from staff, saying it would hurt people in both countries. Asked on Tuesday if he is ready to condemn Mr Putin directly, Mr Fridman said it would be dangerous for his company’s employees. He added that punishing him would do nothing to influence Mr Putin.

As Russian sanctions escalate, several oligarchs speak out against war in Ukraine

Mikhail Fridman, left, criticized the war in Ukraine in a staff email.


Photo:

Mikhail Japaridze/Zuma Press

The UK Foreign Office has been inundated with letters from lawyers warning against targeting their clients, a process which officials say has limited the number of people the UK will sanction. The government department tripled the number of employees in its sanctions department and hired more lawyers. “It doesn’t deter me when people send me letters; it encourages me when people send me letters, and they are on our list,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

Mr Fridman – who has not been sanctioned in the UK – is part of a group of oligarchs in London who have sought to involve themselves in the London establishment. He bought a 150-year-old London house and spent millions of pounds restoring it, a process he described in a local newspaper.

Mr Abramovich, the former oil company owner who bought a famous London football club, and Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a former KGB officer and sometimes Kremlin critic, who runs two British newspapers, also invested in London. Mr. Lebedev was not sanctioned.

On Monday, Mr Lebedev wrote a front-page letter to Mr Putin in a newspaper he owns stating “as a Russian citizen, I beg you to stop the Russians from killing their Ukrainian brothers and sisters”.

As Russian sanctions escalate, several oligarchs speak out against war in Ukraine

Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a former KGB officer, wrote a front-page letter in a newspaper he owns calling for an end to the war.


Photo:

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Zuma Press

Over the weekend Mr Abramovich handed over the ‘stewardship and care’ of his football club Chelsea FC to the trustees of the team’s charitable foundation. However, the club is not for sale and he remains the owner.

Mr Abramovich has hardly been seen in the UK since 2018. On Monday, Mr Abramovich’s spokeswoman said he had been asked to help support a peaceful resolution to the war. She said the Ukrainian side reached out and “he’s been trying to help ever since.” She declined to comment further.

Pressure had already increased on the oligarchs since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Many handed over property to children or spouses. It is unclear if these assets will be targeted. The British government, for example, will not target the children of oligarchs, officials say.

Write to Max Colchester at max.colchester@wsj.com, Jenny Strasburg at jenny.strasburg@wsj.com and Nick Kostov at Nick.Kostov@wsj.com

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