After losing $126 billion in the first week of the war, are the oligarchs turning against Russia’s new tsar?
It’s a sure sign that all is not well in court Wladimir Putin when some of the country’s more prominent oligarchs dare to question the wisdom of his decision to invade Ukraine.
The relationship between Mr Putin and the group of billionaire businessmen who control a significant chunk of the country’s wealth has historically been conducted on a transaction basis.
In return for not participating in the Russian the autocrats’ political agenda, the oligarchs are by and large allowed to pursue their commercial interests without undue interference from the Kremlin.
So high-profile oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea football club (now up for sale), who previously served as governor of Russia’s remote region of Chukotka, have been able to continue generating wealth, confident in the knowledge that they have the Kremlin’s backing .
But this elite group is also aware of the risks they run when they are foolhardy enough to get involved in Russian politics.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once thought to be the richest man in the country, discovered this to his detriment when he made the mistake of confronting Mr Putin about rampant corruption at the highest echelons of the Russian government.
When I first met Mr Khodorkovsky in Moscow in the summer of 2001, he struck me as a friendly and energetic man with a genuine interest in promoting Russian democracy.
When I later saw him late last year, he appeared nervous and introverted, suspicious of eye contact, presumably the result of years spent in a remote Russian penal colony for daring to challenge Mr Putin’s regime.
Other oligarchs who have crossed swords with Russia’s megalomaniac leader have not been so lucky.
Boris Berezovsky, a former business partner of Mr Abramovich who fled to London after becoming a vocal critic of Mr Putin, was found dead under mysterious circumstances at his Berkshire home in 2013 – a death his supporters still claim that he was the work of Russian security agents.
Given the very well-documented dangers of getting in the way of Mr Putin, it was therefore surprising to see that prominent Russian oligarchs appeared to question his decision to invade Ukraine.
By far the most high-profile oligarch to break the ranks was Mikhail Fridman, one of Russia’s richest men, who was born in the Ukrainian city of Lviv.
In a letter to his staff, he wrote: “I am deeply attached to the Ukrainian and Russian people and consider the current conflict a tragedy for both.” would endanger.
Mr Khodorkovsky, who has mostly remained silent since his release in 2013, showed no such reticence in a rare public appearance, denouncing the Russian leader as a “madman” and insisting: “We are not dealing with a sane person.”
Even Mr Abramovich, who has long been considered a Putin loyalist in Western circles, may not be entirely happy with the situation in Ukraine – although it was his daughter Sofia who posted an anti-Putin meme on social media.
Although Mr. Abramovich has not directly criticized the Kremlin in relation to Ukraine, he has taken on an unofficial mediating role due to his prominent position.
As a supporter of the campaign against anti-Semitism, Mr Abramovich is reportedly trusted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who murdered some of his Jewish ancestors in the Holocaust.
In a week when Russian forces saw fit to bomb the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site in Kyiv, where the Nazis were massacring 34,000 Jews, Mr Abramovich’s spokesman confirmed that he was asking for his help from Ukraine to reach a peaceful solution and that he has made an effort to do so.
While Mr. Putin still shows no inclination to back down from his murderous onslaught on Ukraine, Mr. Abramovich’s quiet diplomacy suggests that, for at least some Russian oligarchs, they have more to offer than just helping to end Mr. Putin’s tyrannical Propping up regimes is a consideration Western leaders should take into account as they weigh their next round of Russian sanctions.
With its vast wealth and close ties to the Kremlin, the Russian oligarch army is an obvious target as the West – rightly so – seeks to inflict maximum damage on Russia for its unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
This acc forbeshas seen Russia’s 116 billionaires collectively lose more than $126 billion since the conflict began – losses that will no doubt make many oligarchs question their steadfast loyalty to the Kremlin.
With their country facing financial ruin, the oligarchs are certainly in a better position than most Russians to question, openly or privately, whether Russia’s interests continue to be best served by Putin remaining in power.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/after-losing-126bn-in-the-first-week-of-war-are-the-oligarchs-turning-on-russias-new-tsar-41405526.html After losing $126 billion in the first week of the war, are the oligarchs turning against Russia’s new tsar?