Sitting several feet away from Russia’s main business leaders on the day that the invasion of Ukraine began, Vladimir Putin informed them that he’d had no other choice but to launch the attack. Looking at him from behind their facemasks – the Russian president himself never wears one – the heads of the country’s largest banks and energy companies kept quiet and did not offer any criticism, if indeed they had any to offer.
Little by little, some of these billionaires have started to raise their voices, if moderately. Still fresh in everyone’s mind is the fall of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the owner of the now-defunct Yukos oil and gas company who was tried for money laundering and sent to jail in 2005, remaining behind bars until 2013, when he was pardoned by Putin.
So far, the banker Oleg Tinkov, 54, has been the most outspoken critic of the invasion. Tinkov recently posted a message on his Instagram account together with a photograph of his partner, children and pet dog. “Now in Ukraine innocent people die every day, it is unthinkable and unacceptable! States should spend money on curing people and research to defeat cancer, not on war. We are against this war!” reads part of the message.
Tinkov, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, added in the message that “having almost been on the other side of life twice in the last two years, I’ve seen for myself how fragile life is! And it is the only one we have!” Over 110,000 people had “liked” the post just one day later.
Alexei Mordashov, Russia’s wealthiest man – whose fortune Forbes magazine estimated at $29.1 billion (€26.1 billion) in 2021 – has also been quite critical of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“It is terrible that Ukrainians and Russians are dying, people are suffering hardships and the economy is collapsing,” he told the news outlet RBK. “We must do everything necessary so that a way out of this conflict is found in the very near future and the bloodshed stops.”
“I have absolutely nothing to do with the emergence of the current geopolitical tension. I don’t understand why sanctions have been imposed against us,” he added.
I am deeply attached to Ukrainian and Russian peoples and see the current conflict as a tragedy for them bothMikhail Fridman, co-founder of Alfa-Bank
Oleg Deripaska, 54, owner of the aluminium giant Rusal, was less explicit in his statements. “Peace is very important! Negotiations must begin as soon as possible!” he published on February 27 on his Telegram account. Deripaska was accused in 2017 of having mediated between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, although the US sanctions weighing over him are based on alleged money laundering and extortion of rival industrialists.
Mikhail Fridman, 57, co-founder of Alfa-Bank, one of Russia’s largest private lenders, has spoken out a little more clearly after being included in the European Union’s list of sanctions against Russian oligarchs, journalists and government officials. Fridman was born in Lviv, which is now part of western Ukraine, when the latter was one of the Soviet republics. “My parents are Ukrainian citizens and live in Lviv, my favorite city. But 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,” wrote Fridman in a letter to staff obtained by the Financial Times.
The invasion of Ukraine has not only bothered oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin. Several lawmakers representing the Communist Party have complained that they voted in favor of recognizing the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk without realizing that it would lead to war.
Some of the oligarchs’ children have also been expressing anger at the unfolding events. Sofia Abramovich, daughter of billionaire Roman Abramovich, shared an image with her 41,000 Instagram followers that showed the message “Russia wants a war with Ukraine” where the word “Russia” is crossed out and replaced with “Putin.” The message goes on to say: “The biggest and most successful lie of Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.” Her father has also announced that he plans to sell the Chelsea football club and donate the proceeds to “the victims of the war in Ukraine.”
Even part of Putin’s closest circle has publicly expressed opposition to the invasion. The ex-wife and daughter of Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov posted a “No to war” on Twitter, although they quickly deleted it. This same protest was also picked up on Facebook by Tatyana Yumasheva, the youngest daughter of Boris Yeltsin, the former president of Russia and the man who named Putin his successor.