There have been social media messages calling for peace, an image of a murdered Russian opposition figure, a newspaper editorial demanding President Vladimir Putin “stop this war.”
As Russian forces pound Ukraine’s cities, the sentiments might not be surprising. Their source is — they come from rich Russians, including billionaires close to the Kremlin.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has sent shockwaves through the global community of wealthy Russians, who face sanctions that threaten their London mansions, Mediterranean yachts and children’s places at elite European private schools.
Some have begun, albeit tentatively, to speak out — though it may be too little to end the war, or to protect their Western fortunes.
“It’s very cautious steps, but nevertheless you can see they are already thinking of the future and trying to save whatever they can,” said Elisabeth Schimpfössl, author of the book “Rich Russians.”
President Joe Biden told oligarchs in Tuesday’s State of the Union address that “we are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”
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As violence escalated, and as the U.S., Britain and other countries announced plans to seize assets and limit their ability to stow money in Western banks, some wealthy Russians earlier this week began voicing opposition to war.
On Monday, London’s Evening Standard newspaper published a front-page statement by its Russia-born owner, Evgeny Lebedev. “President Putin, please stop this war,” ran the headline, beside a photo of a young Ukrainian girl killed by shelling.
“As a Russian citizen I plead with you to stop Russians killing their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. As a British citizen I ask you to save Europe from war,” wrote Lebedev, who is the son of oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev.
Lebedev is close to leading British politicians and was appointed to Parliament’s House of Lords by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he had previously refrained from criticizing Putin.
Three other Russian business tycoons — metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, Alfa Bank founder Mikhail Fridman and banker Oleg Tinkov — also urged an end to the war.
Deripaska, who founded the Rusal aluminum company and is considered an ally of Putin, wrote on the Telegram messaging service that “peace is very important” and talks to end the war should begin “as soon as possible.”
FILE – Team owner Oleg Tinkov speaks to the media during a Tinkoff-Saxo cycling team press conference in London on May 28, 2010. Russia’s war on Ukraine has sent shockwaves through the elite global community of wealthy Russians. Metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, Alfa Bank founder Mikhail Fridman and banker Tinkov have also urged an end to the violence, though none has directly mentioned Putin. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)
Team owner Oleg Tinkov speaks to the media during a Tinkoff-Saxo cycling team press conference in London on May 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)
Tinkov, founder of Tinkoff Bank, on Monday posted on Instagram: “Innocent people are dying in Ukraine now, every day, this is unthinkable and unacceptable.”
Neither mentioned Putin directly. Nor did London-based billionaire banker Fridman, who this week was placed on a European Union sanctions list. Fridman, who was born in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, called the war a “tragedy” that “should be stopped as soon as possible.” But he grew visibly uncomfortable when asked to criticize Putin.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are working for us in Russia. And you know, I don’t want to make any comments which potentially could increase their risk,” Fridman told reporters on Tuesday.
Fridman also railed against his sanctioning by the EU, which called him an “enabler of Putin’s inner circle.”
“Imposing sanctions against us here just creates enormous pressure for us personally,” he said. “But we do not have any impact (on) political decisions at all.”
“Putin will conduct negotiations seriously only when he understands that he is stuck in Ukraine,” he told the BBC. “In reality, Putin will be inclined to have negotiations only if Ukraine’s defending forces and its society force him to do so.”