Mikhail Fridman speaks out against Ukrainian conflict in letter to staff

Mikhail Fridman, one of Russia’s richest men, said the war in Ukraine was a “tragedy” and called for the “bloodshed” to end after President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of the country.

In a letter sent to staff at his London-based private equity firm LetterOne on Friday and seen by the Financial Times, the billionaire said he was “convinced” that “war can never be the answer”.

“I was born in Western Ukraine and lived there until I was 17. My parents are Ukrainian citizens and live in Lviv, my favorite city,” Fridman wrote in the email. “But 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. ”

Fridman continued: “I do not make 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. ”

“While a solution seems frighteningly far off, I can only join those whose fervent desire is for the bloodshed to end. I’m sure my partners share my view. ”

The Ukraine-born Fridman, who normally avoids making political statements, is the first Russian businessman to speak out against the conflict amid preparations for extensive US, UK, and EU sanctions against oligarchs with significant presences in the west.

Following Fridman’s statement, a second oligarch – the fervently pro-Putin metals magnate Oleg Deripaska on whom the US has imposed sanctions – released a short statement calling to end the war.

“Peace is very important! Negotiations must start as soon as possible! ” Deripaska wrote on Telegram.

Fridman divides his time between Moscow, where the Russian edition of Forbes estimates his fortune at $ 15.5bn, and London. The Sunday Times ranked him as the UK’s 11th-richest man last year.

Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch who owns Chelsea Football Club, said on Saturday that he was ceding “stewardship” of the English Premier League club to its charitable foundation.

Though several prominent Russians have expressed their opposition to the war, they have mostly come from the ranks of entertainers such as the actress Liya Akhedzhakova, television presenter Ivan Urgant, and journalists including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov.

Like Fridman, most of the celebrities have avoided criticizing Putin directly or blaming Russia for starting the war, instead choosing to call for a more general end to hostilities.

Fridman and his partners own Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest privately held bank, as well as supermarket chain X5, the country’s largest, and mobile carrier Veon.

Their significance to Russia’s economy was underlined on Thursday when Petr Aven, Fridman’s business partner, attended a roundtable of top oligarchs and state company heads in the Kremlin, where Putin explained his rationale for starting the conflict and discussed measures to mitigate western sanctions.

Fridman, who confirmed to the FT he sent the email, is also an important figure in Ukraine, where Alfa-Bank is one of the country’s largest lenders, and he is funding a memorial to the Babiy yare massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany during the second world war.

The US and EU put Alfa-Bank under sanctions that restrict its ability to raise debt financing on international markets but do not go as far as the measures used to block major state lenders such as VTB from the global financial system.

After selling their stake in oil major TNK-BP to state-run giant Rosneft for $ 14bn in 2013, Fridman and his partners set up LetterOne, which is predominantly focused on energy and technology investments.

Its holdings also include Holland & Barrett, one of the largest health foods retailers in Europe, which it acquired in 2017 for £ 1.8bn.

John Browne, the former chief executive of BP, served as chair to L1’s energy unit for six years before stepping down last year.

Last year, Fridman told the FT the general environment in the UK for oligarchs had “deteriorated because of the stand-off between Russia and the west,” but added that “on a personal level, it’s become a bit more friendly, because people made a distinction between the general Russian oligarchs label and us personally. ”

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