Putin's favorite oligarch Oleg Deripaska breaks party line and criticizes Ukraine war
The important Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has made some striking comments about the war in Ukraine. Putin's favorite billionaire said that there would be no winners from Moscow's invasion of Ukraine because the economic loss for Russia was too high.
In his comments to reporters in Moscow, Deripaska defied the party line by publicly questioning the Kremlin's reasons for attacking Ukraine. Still, he was careful not to directly criticize President Vladimir Putin.
According to the German magazine 'Der Spiegel', the founder of the Rusal aluminum conglomerate described Russia's actions as a "huge mistake." He also spoke of 'war' during his remarks, a word that has been banned by Russian authorities. It may even result in criminal prosecution for the oligarch, the German press suggests.
Deripaska also criticized the Russian reaction to the sanctions imposed by the West after the Ukraine invasion. In the interview, he said: "120 days after the start of the conflict, the Russian authorities have still not taken the necessary decisions" to mitigate the impact of these sanctions on the Russian economy.
Such a direct and outspoken criticism of Russian politics is very unusual for one of the world's most influential businessmen.
According to Reuters, Deripaska does not believe there is potential for regime change in Russia any time soon, because much of the opposition is in exile or in prison.
US and EU sanctions are hitting Putin's favorite oligarch as hard as any of the pro-Kremlin billionaires. According to Forbes, his net worth as of 2022 is $1.7 billion. In 2021, it was still $3.8 billion.
(Image: Deripaska's villa in Sicily, Italy)
According to the German outlet 'Tagesschau,' diplomatic circles are especially surprised by Deripaska's statement because he is a major shareholder in GAZ, a Russian armaments company. As such, he is directly benefiting from the Ukraine war. Military expert Gustav Gressel described GAZ as the backbone of the Russian army because the company supplies both wheeled infantry fighting vehicles and armored cross-country vehicles.
Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska (born in 1968 in Dzerzhinsk, Gorky Oblast, Soviet Union) is the founder and owner of Basic Element, one of Russia's largest industrial groups. Until 2017 he was President of the En+ Group and founder and co-owner of the Russian aluminum producer Rusal.
Deripaska belongs to a group of businessmen known as the oligarchs. They control large parts of the economy, especially in the energy and raw materials sectors, and they have been able to maintain their wealth on the condition that they stay out of politics or sympathize with the government.
Experts regarded Deripaska as one of the few remaining oligarchs from the Yeltsin era whom Putin and his government have distrusted. For that reason, they expected that sooner or later the government would nationalize Rusal.
However, according to Janis Kluge from the German Science and Politics Foundation, Deripaska was still an "integral part of the Putin system" as of March 2022. The aluminum tycoon supported Russian state capitalism and benefited from it.
Deripaska himself has always denied any particular closeness to Putin. However, research at the international level has suggested the opposite.
(Image: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)
The EU is partly sparing Oleg Deripaska from sanctions that other Russian oligarchs do get to the full extent. According to information from the German outlets 'Kontraste' and 'ZEIT', Deripaska was on the draft sanctions list at the beginning of the year because of his influential position.
However, the Russian oligarch's name was deleted from the final version of the initial sanctions list. It is unclear who made this decision, and the foreign ministers of the participating countries have not wanted to comment on this.
(Image: Deripaska (r) with Russian representatives at the Montblanc White Nights Festival 2021)
One reason may be that Deripaska has invested in several EU countries. For example, he holds a stake of almost 75% with a holding company in Strabag, an Austrian constructor. According to Forbes, he also invested around 30 million dollars in the Austrian holiday resort of Lech am Arlberg and owns a luxury hotel there.
(Image: Factory tour with then-President Dmitry Medvedev)
The Guardian also describes Deripaska as "Putin's darling with strong ties to British politics." According to the newspaper, he invited the then-Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Mandelson and other top British politicians to his yacht Queen K (pictured) to talk about party donations outside of the statutory regulations. In addition, he is said to have had a friendly relationship with Donald Trump.
Deripaska was sanctioned by the USA in 2018. It was part of a broader effort to punish "the Russian individuals and companies... profiting from a Russian state engaged in 'malign activities' around the world," Reuters reported at the time. Aluminum manufacturer Rusal was hit hard. The company's stock market value fell by 60 percent and aluminum prices rose to $2,500 a ton.
From 2001 to 2017, Oleg Deripaska was married to Polina Yumasheva, the daughter of Valentin Yumashev. His father-in-law was quite a powerful man. He was the son-in-law of Boris Yeltsin and Chief of Staff under Yeltsin before becoming an adviser to President Vladimir Putin. The couple have a son. Deripaska lives mostly in Moscow.
(Image: Boris Yeltsin at Putin's inauguration)
Oligarchs are an important pillar of Putin's power. With the sanctions affecting them personally, resentment is growing among Russia's super-rich. Numerous villas and yachts abroad have already been confiscated and their children can no longer travel or study abroad or study. Finally, imported luxury products are no longer available in Russia as they used to be.
(Picture: Anti-war forces occupy Deripaska's London villa in March 2022)