Telling Putin To End War Would be 'Suicide,' Says Russian Billionaire

One of the Russian billionaires sanctioned over their home nation's invasion of Ukraine said it would be "suicide" to speak out against the war to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Oligarch Mikhail Fridman, the founder of the largest private bank in Russia, Alfa Bank, who now runs private equity firm LetterOne, was sanctioned by the European Union along with his longtime business partner, Pyotr Aven, on March 1.

This week, the U.K. government said it will also be sanctioning the pair in response to Russia's attacks on Ukraine.

In their decision announcing the sanctions, the EU referred to Aven as one of Putin's "closest oligarchs" who regularly attended meetings with the Russian president in the Kremlin.

Fridman, who was born in Ukraine, said he's never talked to Putin face to face, but has been in meetings with groups of other business leaders.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Fridman dismissed the significance of Aven's meetings with Putin and said oligarchs do not have any influence over the Russian president and definitely would not voice opposition to the invasion.

"The power distance between Mr. Putin and anybody else is like the distance between the Earth and the cosmos," Fridman said. "Mr. Aven was just approaching this like, 'Thank you very much for taking the time.' To say anything to Putin against the war, for anybody, would be kind of suicide."

Fridman also described how he does not believe the sanctions issued against him and Aven are justified, or that they will have any effect on Putin's decisions regarding the conflict in Ukraine.

"If the people who are in charge in the EU believe that because of sanctions, I could approach Mr. Putin and tell him to stop the war, and it will work, then I'm afraid we're all in big trouble," he said.

"That means those who are making this decision understand nothing about how Russia works. And that's dangerous for the future."

According to Bloomberg, Fridman was worth about $14 billion before the invasion. Since the sanctions, he is worth an estimated $10 billion on paper, although he now has no real way to access the money.

Fridman said he is wary about the consequences if he speaks out against Putin or voices opposition to the war. Despite this, he wrote a letter to his LetterOne colleagues where he expressed a desire for "the bloodshed to stop" just days after the invasion began.

"I do not make political statements, I am a businessman with responsibilities to my many thousands of employees in Russia and Ukraine," Fridman wrote.

"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."

In a previous interview with Reuters, Fridman confirmed he and Aven will be contesting the EU sanctions, while also tentatively speaking out against the war, citing fears of reprisals.

"For me that's a huge tragedy what is going on," Fridman said. "The war should be stopped."

The Russian Foreign Ministry has been contacted for comment.

Mikhail Fridman putin
Mikhail Fridman, left, says Russian oligarchs have no influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and it would be "suicide" to oppose him over the Ukraine invasion. Mikhail Svetlov/asha Mordovets/Getty Images