Permanently residing in London, Fridman believes that the punishments to which the billionaires were subjected indicate a complete misunderstanding by the West of the situation in Russia.
According to Fridman, he did not suspect that the special operation could actually take place. Partly because he was born and raised in Lvov, and his parents, citizens of Ukraine, spent part of the year in this city until recently. Now this three-room apartment has become a temporary refuge for refugees, in which 15 people live. “I know every corner of this city. I always knew that Ukraine would resist”, - says Fridman.
On February 25, Fridman sent a letter to employees of his British company LetterOne, later made public, in which he called the incident a tragedy. The oligarch refrained from direct criticism of the Russian authorities, but believes that now his return to Russia would be risky. Three days later, it became known that the European Union had imposed sanctions against him and his longtime business partner, Petr Aven. According to Fridman, this plunged him into shock.
“I have never worked for any state-owned company or government position,” he says. – If the EU thinks that because of the sanctions I could turn to Mr. Putin and demand that he stop, then I'm afraid we all have big problems. This means that those who make such decisions do not understand anything about how everything works in Russia. And it's dangerous for the future".
The European Union believes that Fridman and Aven collaborated with the eldest daughter of Vladimir Putin, Maria, who allegedly led Alfa-Bank's Alfa-Endo charity project. Fridman assures that this is not the case:
“She has never worked with us in any capacity. I have never seen her in my life. I don't know who she is".
Fridman also says he has never spoken one-on-one with the Russian president, although he has taken part in collective meetings with him along with other business leaders. “The distance between Mr Putin and anyone else is cosmic. To speak out in conversation with Putin against what he is doing would be to commit suicide”.
In 2021, Forbes magazine put Mikhail Fridman in 11th place in the list of the richest entrepreneurs in Russia with a fortune of $ 15.5 billion. Two years earlier, The Times called him the richest resident of London. Now Fridman nominally has about 10 billion, but he cannot manage this money. On March 15, sanctions against him were also imposed in the UK, where he lives permanently, and his bank card was frozen. He can only claim an allowance of around £2,500 a month. Fridman claims that, unlike many other Russian oligarchs, he has no yachts or planes, and all his real estate is houses in London and Moscow and his parents' current apartment in Latvia. Housing in the English capital, the Victorian mansion Athlone House, Fridman bought in 2016 for 65 million pounds (85 million dollars). Now that all his accounts are frozen, he can't even pay to have his house cleaned. "I had to do this when I was a student and shared a dorm room with four other men, but after 35 years it's pretty unusual".
Fridman now has two months to challenge the EU sanctions and is already talking to attorney Roger Gerson, who has experience working with Russian clients, about the matter. Fridman has an Israeli passport, but he is not going to fly there: he does not have a home there, and access to the money that would help him buy it is closed. “I am a prisoner”, - he says.