Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska have become two of the country’s first leading businesspeople to speak out against Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Fridman, who is one of Russia’s richest men, controls private equity firm LetterOne and was a founder of Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank. In a letter to his employees he called for an end to the “bloodshed”.
Ukrainian-born Fridman sent an email to staff at LetterOne, first reported by the Financial Times, in which he wrote that “war can never be the answer”.
Describing his Ukrainian roots in Lviv, where his parents still live, he wrote: “I have also spent much of my life as a citizen of Russia, building and growing businesses. I am deeply attached to Ukrainian and Russian peoples and see the current conflict as a tragedy for them both.”
Deripaska called for peace talks to begin “as fast as possible” in a post on the messaging app Telegram.
“Peace is very important,” wrote Deripaska, who founded the Russian aluminium giant Rusal, in which he still owns a stake through shares in its London-listed parent company EN+ Group.
Deripaska, who said as recently as 21 February there would not be a war in Ukraine, has been on the US sanctions list since 2018 over his alleged links to the Russian government, which he has taken legal action to challenge.
Fridman was ranked as the 128th richest person in the world in 2021, according to the publication Forbes’ world billionaire list.
The 57-year-old told staff in his letter that he usually avoids making political statements.
“I am a businessman with responsibilities to my many thousands of employees in Russia and Ukraine. 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.”
Fridman’s LetterOne owns assets in its L1 Retail unit including the UK health food retailer Holland & Barrett, as well as Spain’s supermarket chain DIA and the mobile phone service provider Turkcell, which has customers in Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Cyprus.
Fridman and Deripaska join a small group of prominent Russians – including popular actors, musicians and television presenters – who have called on President Vladimir Putin stop the military operation in Ukraine, although many Russian oligarchs have remained silent.
Intervention may begin to put pressure on Moscow’s elite from the worlds of business and finance to voice their opposition to Putin’s invasion.
The country’s wealthiest people are expected to face significant economic upheaval as sanctions against Russia mount, including the expulsion of several Russian banks from the Swift global banking payments system, designed to disconnect the country from international finance.