Oligarch who was once Russia’s richest man says the nation’s billionaire elites need to publicly declare Putin a war criminal to prove they do not work for the Kremlin
- Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a former oil tycoon who fled Russia to London in 2013
- He was imprisoned in 2003 and had his oil company seized by the Russian state
- He spent nearly a decade in prison before deciding to leave the country in 2013
- Khodorkovsky took aim at other Russian elites who have left but remain silent
- He called on other oligarchs and high-profile figures to declare Putin a war criminal and said they must prove they are not allied with the Kremlin
- It comes after a series of oligarchs and other notable Russian figures resigned from their positions
A self-exiled oligarch who was once Russia’s richest man has called out the country’s billionaire elites, saying they must publicly declare Vladimir Putin a war criminal to prove they are not in cahoots with the Kremlin.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who fled Russia to London in 2013 after falling foul of Putin and being jailed for nearly a decade, said high-profile Russians who left amid the invasion of Ukraine cannot stay silent about the atrocities being committed by Russian forces.
‘Public figures cannot leave quietly and then sit quietly. If you have left, then you should publicly dissociate yourself,’ Khodorkovsky told The Washington Post in an interview last week.
‘You should step up to the microphone and say that Putin is a war criminal and that what he is doing is a crime, that the war against Ukraine is a crime.
‘Say this, and then we’ll understand that Putin doesn’t have a hold over you,’ Khodorkovsky continued.
The exiled oligarch’s comments referred to a number of Russian elites, who since the invasion began have left their homeland but have thus far not openly condemned Putin’s war.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who fled Russia to London in 2013 after falling foul of Putin and being jailed for nearly a decade, said high-profile Russians who left amid the invasion of Ukraine cannot stay silent about the atrocities being committed by Russian forces
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to chairman of the board of Yukas oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky (R) during a meeting with members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in the Kremlin, Moscow 31 May 2001. Khodorkovsky was imprisoned in 2003 for nearly a decade before fleeing to London in 2013
Khodorkovsky has called out the country’s billionaire elites, saying they must publicly declare Vladimir Putin (pictured) a war criminal to prove they are not in cahoots with the Kremlin
A woman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 3, 2022
One man referred to by Khodorkovsky is Anatoly Chubais, an economist who was instrumental in the development of Russia’s post-Soviet economy – and the privatisation programmes which allowed Russia’s oligarchs to cultivate their vast fortunes.
Chubais was serving as Putin’s international envoy before stepping down and leaving Russia last month – the first high-ranking official to do so after Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border in late February – but he has not made any public comments since his resignation.
Khodorkovsky also singled out two other elites, Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven of Alfa Group, who left Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine but are among Putin’s most high-profile oligarchs.
The pair were part of an exclusive group of tycoons who amassed incredible sums of wealth in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and controlled much of the economy.
Both Fridman and Aven have invested millions in the UK and Europe, building up a diverse portfolio of companies and assets beyond Russian shores, but have been hit by crippling sanctions despite choosing to flee Russia.
The oligarchs have given awkward interviews to Western media in which they clearly appeared uncomfortable about the situation in Ukraine, with Ukrainian-born Fridman going so far as to call the invasion a ‘huge tragedy which should be stopped as soon as possible.’
But they have refused to criticise Putin and have been careful not to refer to the war as such.
Veteran Kremlin envoy Anatoly Chubais (pictured right, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2016) has quit and left the country with no intention to return allegedly in a protest over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Khodorkovsky also singled out two other elites, Mikhail Fridman (pictured) and Petr Aven of Alfa Group, who left Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine but are among Putin’s most high-profile oligarchs. Ukrainian-born Fridman has gone so far as to call the invasion a ‘huge tragedy which should be stopped as soon as possible.’ But they have refused to criticise Putin and have been careful not to refer to the war as such
Alfa Bank Chairman of the Board Petr Aven (L) is pictured alongside Roman Abramovich at a meeting of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with Russian business community representatives, at the Moscow Kremlin, 2016
In a recent interview with El Pais, Fridman even cited Khodorkovsky as an example of what consequences meddling in political affairs could have for a Russian oligarch.
In 2003, when Putin drew a line for Khodorkovsky, it became clear that ‘any participation in political life was unacceptable,’ Fridman said.
‘After that, we did not back any politician, because we felt that it would have been a transgression of the framework that the Kremlin demanded from the business world.’
Khodorkovsky, an outspoken Putin critic, was once Russia’s richest man as the head of oil company Yukas, but he was arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud and tax evasion and jailed for almost 10 years while Yukas was taken over by the state.
Since his release and subsequent self-exile to London in 2013, Khodorkovsky has maintained the charges were trumped up as part of a Putin ploy to seize his company, and has remained one of Putin’s staunchest critics.
In an interview with BBC R4 last month, Khodorkovsky claimed the Russian tyrant ‘nowadays lives in his own world’ and insisted that ‘in the world he has created around him over the last 20 years he really believed he would be welcomed by people in the former Soviet republic as a liberator’.
Rubbishing allegations that Putin has gone ‘mad’, the former oil tycoon said that ‘everything that is happening today, is totally unexpected [to Putin]’.
In an interview with BBC R4 last month, Khodorkovsky claimed the Russian tyrant ‘nowadays lives in his own world’ and insisted that ‘in the world he has created around him over the last 20 years he really believed he would be welcomed by people in the former Soviet republic as a liberator’
‘Has he has put a limit on his time in power because of his aggression? That is for sure. Can he close off Russia in the way Iran has closed itself off, to be in a castle under siege? I doubt that very much. Russia is not like Iran. So in a year or two or three years, he will clearly lose power.’
Khodorkovsky has also been one of the most vocal advocates of strong economic sanctions against Russia to cripple Putin and the Russian elite, reasoning that Russian citizens would eventually rise up if their income dried up.
‘I think that the West has taken a very important action. The blocking of the accounts of the central bank is, in my opinion, the only sanction which can in the short-term stop the aggression in the short term, but this is not enough,’ the former tycoon said.
‘In order not to waste this first step, all the Kremlin’s options for using currency should be blocked. I would never have said this before, but now, when people close to me are being killed, in Kharkiv for example, I say that Putin’s troops should be forced out of Ukraine by any available means.
Khodorkovsky added: ‘In Ukraine, Putin is using the same troops that he uses to suppress people in Russia. If a situation arises where currency resources in Russia are limited and people will not be able to hold out until the end of the month for their salary, and people go out into the streets, Putin will have to withdraw the troops.’
Though Russia’s top oligarchs have generally remained silent on the war in Ukraine, there have been a number of high-profile figures who have left the country and spoken out about the invasion.
Arkady Dvorkovich, who once served as Russia’s deputy prime minister and is currently chairman of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), criticised the war with Ukraine in comments made to Mother Jones magazine on March 14 and came under fire from the Kremlin.
‘Wars are the worst things one might face in life. Any war. Anywhere. Wars do not just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections. Including this war,’ he said.
Dvorkovich added that FIDE was ‘making sure there are no official chess activities in Russia or Belarus, and that players are not allowed to represent Russia or Belarus in official or rated events until the war is over and Ukrainian players are back in chess.’
FIDE banned a top Russian player for six months for his vocal support of Putin and the invasion.
Two days after Dvorkovich’s comments, a top official in the United Russia party demanded that he be fired as chair of the state-backed Skolkovo Foundation. Last week, the foundation reported that Dvorkovich decided to step down.
Arkady Dvorkovich, who once served as Russia’s deputy prime minister and is currently chairman of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), criticised the war with Ukraine in comments made to Mother Jones magazine on March 14 and came under fire from the Kremlin
Lilia Gildeyeva (L) – a longtime anchor at the state-funded NTV channel, which for two decades has carefully toed the Kremlin line – quit her job and left Russia shortly after the invasion. Another Russian journalist, Zhanna Agalakova (R), also quit after spending more than 20 years working with state-run TV broadcast Channel One, and gave an interview in Paris about the decision
Meanwhile, Lilia Gildeyeva – a longtime anchor at the state-funded NTV channel, which for two decades has carefully toed the Kremlin line – quit her job and left Russia shortly after the invasion.
She told the independent news site The Insider last week that she decided ‘to stop all this’ on the first day of the Feb. 24 invasion.
‘It was an immediate nervous breakdown,’ she said. ‘For several days I couldn’t pull myself together. The decision was probably obvious right away. There won’t be any more work.’
Gildeyeva said news coverage on state TV channels was tightly controlled by the authorities, with channels getting orders from officials. She admitted to going along with it since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting a separatist insurgency in Ukraine.
‘When you gradually give in to yourself, you don’t notice the depth of the fall. And at some point, you find yourself face to face with the picture that leads to Feb. 24,’ she said.
Another leading Russian journalist, Zhanna Agalakova, also quit after spending more than 20 years working with state-run TV broadcast Channel One, and gave an interview in Paris about the decision.
‘We have come to a point when on TV, on the news, we’re seeing the story of only one person – or the group of people around him. All we see are those in power. In our news, we don’t have the country. In our news, we don’t have Russia,’ Agalakova said.
Referring to the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the support of the separatists in Ukraine, she said that she ‘could not hide from the propaganda anymore,’ even as a foreign correspondent. Agalakova said she had to ‘only talk about the bad things happening in the U.S.’
‘My reports didn’t contain lies, but that’s exactly how propaganda works: You take reliable facts, mix them up, and a big lie comes together. Facts are true, but their mix is propaganda,’ she said.
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