Tinkov, the Russian oligarch who lost his bank for criticizing Putin’s invasion

The financier, who is in hiding for fear of being assassinated, says he was forced to sell his 35% stake in the company in retaliation for calling out the ‘crazy war’

Oleg Tinkov at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, in June 2019.
Oleg Tinkov at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, in June 2019.Maxim Shemetov (REUTERS)

On April 24, the day Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter, Russian business tycoon Oleg Tinkov wished for peace between Russians and Ukrainians. “May the war end as soon as possible,” he wrote in a message on Instagram.

It was not the first time the businessman had spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Shortly after the war began, Tinkov – who is currently receiving treatment for cancer – stated: “I saw for myself how fragile life is. Now innocent people are dying every day in Ukraine, this is unacceptable.”

And on April 19, he posted another message on Instagram. “I don’t see ANY beneficiary of this crazy war! Innocent people and soldiers are dying,” he wrote. “The generals woke up from a hangover, realized they have a shitty army. Why would we have a good army, if everything else in the country is shit and mired in nepotism, servility and subservience?” He also described those who support the war by painting the “Z” symbol as “morons.”

According to Tinkov, this was the message that set off alarm bells in the Kremlin. Soon afterward, the businessman was forced to sell 35% of his shares in Tinkoff Bank, the company he founded in 2006. In an interview in The New York Times, the businessman said the Kremlin immediately ordered the bank’s directors to cut their ties with him, or the bank would be nationalized.

“I couldn’t discuss the price. It was like a hostage – you take what you are offered. I couldn’t negotiate,” Tinkov said in the interview, his first since Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to enter Ukraine on February 24.

The 54-year-old said that following the post several friends with contacts in Russia’s FSB security service said they feared for his life. He told The New York Times that he is now in a safe place surrounded by bodyguards.

Tinkov said in the interview that he was forced to sell his 35% stake in Tinkoff Bank to Vladimir Potanin, a Russian mining oligarch, who, according to the US State Department, is very close to Putin. He said it was “a desperate sale,” but he thanked the businessman for allowing him to walk away with some money from the deal. Although Tinkov did not disclose the price, he said that he received 3% of what he believed was the true value of his stake. According to The New York Times, Tinkoff Bank was valued at more than $20 billion on the London stock exchange last year. Sources cited by the Russian newspaper Kommersant said he sold the stake for around $300 million.

Tinkoff Bank, formerly called Tinkoff Credit Systems (TCS) Bank, has announced plans to change its name. In announcing its rebranding after Tinkov’s criticism of the Ukraine invasion, Tinkoff Bank said: “The company has long prepared for this. Recent events have made the decision more relevant.”

The bank also tried to distance itself from its founder. “Oleg has not been in Moscow for many years, did not participate in the life of the company and was not involved in any matters,” Tinkoff Bank said in a statement.

Although Tinkoff Bank itself has so far escaped Western sanctions, Tinkov was included in the United Kingdom’s March blacklist, despite being one of the few Russian oligarchs who have spoken out against the war. Other Russian tycoons who also advocated for peace were sanctioned by the European Union in March, including Oleg Deripaska, the founder of Russian aluminium giant Rusal. “Peace is the priority,” said Deripaska on Twitter. “Negotiations must start ASAP.” The businessman was accused in 2017 of acting as a mediator between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and was also investigated for money laundering.

In the New York Times interview, Tinkov said that other business leaders and senior officials have told him that they are against the conflict, but are too scared to speak up. That fear has been bolstered by new laws in Russia, which can sentence a person found guilty of “discrediting the armed forces” and spreading so-called “false” information to between three and five years in prison.

Despite these pressures, there are still dissenting voices from Russia. Weeks after the new law came into effect, Deripaska quoted on Telegram an excerpt from Bethink Yourselves, Leo Tolstoy’s 1904 article against the Russo-Japanese war. The famous writer’s words, published over a century ago, are still relevant today: “Again war ... and the same men who but yesterday were proving the cruelty, futility, the senselessness of wars now think, speak, and write only about killing as many men as possible, about ruining and destroying the greatest possible amount of the productions of human labor, and about exciting as much as possible the passion of hatred in those peaceful, harmless, industrious men who by their labor feed, clothe, maintain these same pseudo-enlightened men, who compel them to commit those dreadful deeds contrary to their conscience, welfare, or faith.”

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