Billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska are the first Russian oligarchs to publicly criticize President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and call for “peace” and an end to the “bloodshed.” Although neither man directly criticized the Russian leader, they were the first senior businessmen to voice criticism of Putin’s actions. Their companies are subject to western sanctions due to the invasion.
Fridman, a Russian-Israeli dual citizen and prominent philanthropist for Jewish and Israeli causes, last Friday sent an email to employees at his private equity firm LetterOne, which was subsequently published in the Financial Times. He described the conflict as a “tragedy” and expressed the “fervent wish that the bloodshed would end”.
He continued: “I am a businessman with responsibilities to my many thousands of employees in Russia and Ukraine. However, I am convinced that war can never be the answer. This crisis will cost lives and harm two nations that have been brothers for hundreds of years.”
Fridman sits on the board of the largest private bank in Russia, Alfa Bank, which he also co-founded. She could suffer enormously if Western sanctions against Russia are tightened and she is denied access to the international banking system SWIFT.
“While a solution seems terrifyingly far away, I can only join those whose dearest wish is for the bloodshed to end,” he added. Fridman is one of the richest men in the two countries of which he is a citizen. Forbes ranked him the 128th richest person in the world in 2021, with an estimated net worth of $12 billion.
Fridman pointed out that he was “born in western Ukraine and lived there until I was 17. My parents are Ukrainian citizens and live in Lviv, my favorite city. But I’ve also spent much of my life as a citizen of Russia, building and expanding businesses. I am deeply attached to the Ukrainian and Russian people and consider the current conflict a tragedy for both peoples”.
The oligarch is also a co-founder of the Russian Jewish Congress and a co-founder and trustee of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which makes a long list of donations to causes in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.
On the same day that Fridman’s email was published, aluminum and energy magnate Oleg Deripaska posted on his Telegram channel that “Peace is very important! Negotiations must start as soon as possible!” Deripaska made his fortune in metal trading, founded Russian Aluminum (RusAl), the world’s second-largest aluminum exporter, and now owns a stake in aluminum and energy holding company En+ Group.
In the past, Deripaska – whose fortune is estimated at $4 billion – has helped fund educational programs run by the Jewish Federation in Russia. He is the founder of the largest charitable foundation in Russia.
Sanctions are nothing new for him. In 2018, the US Treasury Department put him on a list of “specially designated nationals,” noting that he was “under investigation for money laundering and allegations of threatening the lives of business competitors.” The Trump administration later lifted sanctions against his companies, though Deripaska personally remains blacklisted. He has told journalists that the sanctions have cost him $7.5 billion.
Deripaska also came under scrutiny in the United States for his financial dealings with Paul Manafort, one of Donald Trump’s campaign managers during the 2016 presidential campaign. This led to allegations that he served as a financial pipeline for Russian campaign interference. He later declared himself redeemed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 investigation, which found no evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.