The influential British publication Financial Times spoke about the difficult situation in which Russian oligarchs found themselves abroad, citing at least two Russian businessmen who received calls from their homeland, and several other interlocutors of the publication who are familiar with this situation.
The newspaper spoke to seven sanctioned Russian businessmen, as well as high-ranking bankers, corporate executives, former and current officials, to find out how they are doing and if they plan to return.
Many of them answered that Western sanctions are pushing businessmen back to Russia, who think something like this: “Do I need all this? I will return to Moscow, where I can enjoy dining out and feel great.” Sanctions, in their opinion, force the elites to become even closer to the Kremlin, and even those who would like to distance themselves from the Russian authorities.
And this is not at all the effect that Western governments were counting on. Faced with the risk of losing their fortunes, businessmen were supposed to turn their anger against the Kremlin and put pressure on Putin. “In order to carry out a palace coup and overthrow the king, you must first be in the palace. None of these people are there,” one of the sanctioned businessmen told the publication. According to him, entrepreneurs do not have leverage on the president, and they cannot influence his decisions.
The sanctions also hit those entrepreneurs who wanted to settle in the West. For example, Alfa Bank co-founders Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven created a private investment company, LetterOne, in London in 2013. For Friedman, living and doing business in London meant he was finally on the world stage, says a former partner of the businessman. “Friedman has always hated Russia. He hated living there. He wanted to break out and move to the West at the first opportunity to do business there, ”the source told the FT.
The publication tells how, after the start of the war, Friedman tried to negotiate by phone with a high-ranking US diplomat in Kiev, Christina Quinn. The billionaire offered to donate part of his fortune to Ukraine, and in return he expected to avoid US sanctions. According to FT sources, the conversation quickly heated up, with Friedman yelling, "You want to take all my money." Quinn said the call was over and hung up. The businessman later wrote an apology message. Friedman himself denies both the conversation itself and the fact that he was trying to avoid sanctions.
Some businessmen would like to give part of their fortune to support Ukraine in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and have already turned to Kiev with such an offer, FT sources told, and one of the interlocutors said that if possible, “everyone” would use this option, since Russian businessmen had no other choice. Putin can offer them something only in the future, and entrepreneurs would like to return the lost money now.
However, in Ukraine, such proposals are treated with skepticism: Vladimir Zelensky, according to a person close to him, in the case of Fridman is ready to agree to the option of partial nationalization of assets only if the businessman directly condemns Putin, strongly opposes the war and breaks the Russian the passport. Friedman denies having discussed Ukrainian citizenship with Kiev.
Aven and Fridman's LetterOne partner Alexei Kuzmichev was vacationing at a ski resort in Switzerland when the EU imposed sanctions on him. The businessman remained in the country without the opportunity to reunite with his family in France. But he also did not want to return to Russia.
In total, at least 21 Russian businessmen sued the EU over the sanctions. Some acknowledge that these efforts will probably not be enough.