Some sanctioned Russian billionaires are deploying a brand new weapon of their bids to get western sanctions lifted: the character reference.
Russian businessman and London resident Mikhail Fridman has collected at the least a dozen letters from a few of Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics, defending his repute and describing him as a person distant from the Kremlin and unfairly maligned.
The personal letters seen by the FT embody a number of from high members of the Russian opposition, with one even writing in Fridman’s defence straight from jail.
Fridman and his enterprise companion Petr Aven have pursued a string of various methods in a bid to get the sanctions lifted. On Thursday, the FT reported that they had been set to promote their stakes in Alfa-Financial institution, the financial institution they based and was Russia’s largest personal lender. Fridman has additionally promised Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, help in alternate for an excellent phrase with the west over the sanctions — however to no avail.
To date, there was no public indication that London or Brussels would elevate their restrictions — regardless of makes an attempt by some key figures in Russia’s opposition motion to persuade them.
A few of the letters they penned, defending the Alfa founders from accusations of proximity to the Kremlin, had been final week made public. Some are character witness statements, whereas others are letters addressed to EU leaders, and a few name straight for the sanctions to be reconsidered.
Opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who was jailed final summer time in Moscow over his antiwar speech, penned one letter about Fridman moments earlier than his arrest, in line with two sources. The second, despatched final month to European Fee president Ursula von der Leyen, was a handwritten word he wrote from jail.
Fridman “interacted with the state, however nonetheless by no means compromised his repute by taking part within the present Russian authorities’s political initiatives,” Yashin wrote. His lawyer informed the FT that she couldn’t put questions in regards to the letters to him till their subsequent in-person assembly.
Two leaders of the Anti-Corruption Basis, an organisation arrange by jailed dissident Alexei Navalny, additionally wrote letters within the oligarchs’ help.
The group is understood for its investigations into corruption by oligarchs and politicians, and it’s the loudest voice calling for extra particular person sanctions on the Russian elite.
So it got here as a shock to many to search out out that Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of employees, had written a letter final October to Josep Borrell, the EU’s international coverage chief, calling for sanctions on some oligarchs to be eliminated.
On Thursday, Volkov stepped again from his function as chair of the muse after an uproar. Volkov claimed no person on the basis knew he had written the letter on Navalny letterhead.
However Vladimir Ashurkov, a former senior Alfa government and the muse’s longtime government director, additionally signed a letter in April final yr, seen by the FT, at Fridman’s behest. He declined to remark to the FT.
A number of different main opposition figures, together with the pinnacle of Memorial, a number one human rights group Russia shuttered shortly earlier than the struggle started.
Past the furor, the letters do increase a key query about western sanctions, one yr since they had been first imposed: what’s the end-game?
The aim, Volkov argued in his letter to the EU on the time, shouldn’t be “to easily punish sure individuals”. As a substitute, sanctions ought to finally serve a political objective: to create stress on the Kremlin by inflicting destabilising fractures within the Russian elite.
For this, he argued, there must be an exit technique. Given the selection, many oligarchs, he argued, would decide the west.
The thought has been voiced earlier than, however has had little impression on sanctions policymakers in London and past. One defined to the FT, months again, that inducing behaviour change was merely not the purpose.
Resigning on Thursday, Volkov wrote: “This letter was an enormous political mistake.”
Few sanctioned Russians have managed to get the measures lifted, however this month is essential as member states are resulting from lengthen the sanctions by March 15.
Nobel prizewinner Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the impartial Novaya Gazeta newspaper, wrote a letter to EU leaders itemizing Fridman’s previous friendship with assassinated opposition chief Boris Nemtsov, his investments in Ukrainian companies, and his sponsorship of charitable causes in Ukraine equivalent to the development of a Holocaust memorial centre at Babi Yar.