Kremlin critic Khodorkovsky urges fellow oligarchs to speak out: ‘Take the risk’

Former jailed dissident calls on his peers, Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, to ‘step up to the microphone and say that Putin is a war criminal’

Russian opposition figure and former owner of the Yukos Oil Company Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Vilnius, Lithuania, Aug. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
Russian opposition figure and former owner of the Yukos Oil Company Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Vilnius, Lithuania, Aug. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch and harsh critic of the Kremlin, called on his fellow Russian billionaires to publicly denounce the crimes of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Public figures cannot leave quietly and then sit quietly,” Khodorkovsky told The Washington Post in an interview published on Sunday. “If you have left, then you should publicly dissociate yourself or we should be forced to suspect that you are acting on [the Kremlin’s] behalf.”

The oligarch continued: “You should step up to the microphone and say that Putin is a war criminal and that what he is doing is a crime, that the war against Ukraine is a crime. Say this, and then we’ll understand that Putin doesn’t have a hold over you.”

Khodorkovsky, an exiled Russian oil tycoon who spent a decade in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as revenge for challenging Putin’s rule, was referring specifically to fellow oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven. All three men have Jewish roots, and Fridman and Aven were among the founders of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, though they stepped down from the board last month in the wake of sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Both Fridman and Aven were among the oligarchs sanctioned by the European Union over their purported ties to the Kremlin. The two men have vowed to fight the sanctions, and in a joint statement insisted they had “no financial or political relationship” with Putin or the Kremlin.

Neither have voiced support for Putin, but they have been circumspect in their public remarks. In a letter to employees days after the invasion, Fridman said that he does not “make political statements, I am a businessman with responsibilities to my many thousands of employees in Russia and Ukraine.”

From left to right: Ekaterina Kosina, Petr Aven, Jessica Kraft, Robert Kraft, Sara Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mikhail Fridman, and Natan Sharansky on the red carpet at the Genesis Prize ceremony, on June 20, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“I am convinced however that war can never be the answer. This crisis will cost lives and damage two nations who have been brothers for hundreds of years,” he wrote. “While a solution seems frighteningly far off, I can only join those whose fervent desire is for the bloodshed to end.”

Khodorkovsky told The Washington Post that he recognizes that neither Fridman nor Aven could directly influence Putin to end the war. But he urged them to publicly distance themselves from the Russian president, and claimed that the suggestions that Putin could arrest their employees in Russia is no more than “cover.”

“This is ridiculous to even hear. It means Putin has some kind of hold over you,” he said. “And if there is a hold on you, then it means your resources are dangerous during the war.”

Khodorkovsky said the two men and others in similar situations should gather the courage to speak out: “This is a real war. People are dying every day,” he said. “The regime for which you worked is killing people. Your personal fate compared to this does not mean so much. Take the risk.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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