Russian billionaire dares to speak out for Putin

Boris Mintz is one of the few wealthy Russian businessmen to speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin.

Most prominent figures in the country have remained silent on the war, avoiding criticism of the Kremlin.

According to Mr Mints, there is a simple explanation: “They were all scared.”

The Kremlin is known for cracking down on outspoken critics of President Vladimir Putin, and content on Russian news channels is controlled. The country has also banned unauthorized protests since 2014.

Mr Mintz said “anyone” who has publicly criticized Putin “has a reason to fear for their personal safety”.

However, in an interview via email, he told the BBC: “I’m not going to live in a bomb shelter like Mr Putin.”

The 64-year-old, who built his fortune through the investment firm O1 Group (which he founded in 2003 and sold in 2018), said the “customary way” in Russia to punish business owners for “intolerance” of the regime was “targeted”. A fabricated criminal case for their business.”

“Criminal cases like this not only affect the business owners themselves, but also their families and employees,” he said.

“Anything independent of [Putin] Seen as a threat because he or she may have the ability to fund the opposition or foster protests – so these people are seen as Putin’s enemies and therefore as enemies of the state,” he added.

‘The inevitable imprisonment’

This is a situation that Mr. Mints has experienced first-hand, when he first spoke out against President Putin’s policies after Crimea was annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Mr Mints believes he needs to leave Russia for the UK in 2015 “against the backdrop of an increasing crackdown on the political opposition”, the year Boris Nemtsov was shot dead.

Mr. Nemtsov is a fierce opponent of President Putin. His murder in 2015 was the most high-profile political murder since Putin came to power. Authorities deny any involvement.

Two years later, O1 Group, Mr. Mintz’s former investment firm, “found itself in open conflict with Russia’s central bank,” he said, and legal proceedings began in several different jurisdictions.

“When things like this start to happen, it’s a clear signal that people should leave the country immediately,” he said.

He remains the subject of current legal action by the Kremlin.

It is because of such actions that Mr Mintz suggested that “the bravest step” wealthy Russians who dislike Mr Putin “can take” is “silent exile”, citing Mikhail Khodorkovsky case, He was once Russia’s richest man but was jailed for nearly a decade for alleged fraud and tax evasion, which he said was politically motivated.

Boris Mintz worked for the government of Boris Yeltsin (right) but was sacked by Vladimir Putin (left) just days after taking office

The country’s two most prominent oligarchs, Mikhail Friedman and Oleg Deripaska, did not directly criticize Putin in their respective calls for peace in Ukraine.

Billionaire banker Mr Friedman said Any personal remarks may pose a risk not only to himself, but also to staff and colleagues.

However, Russian tycoons have joined Mr Mints Oleg Tinkov, founder of Tinkoff Bank and former owner of cycling team Tinkoff-Saxo, denounced the invasion.

Mr Mintz called President Putin’s actions “despicable” and called the invasion “the most tragic event in recent history, not only in Ukraine and Russia, but globally”.

He also compared it to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

“This war is the result of the madness and power-hungry of a man like Vladimir Putin, who has the support of his inner circle,” said Mr. Mintz, who until 2018 was Russia’s biggest president Chairman of one of the pension asset management companies.

The BBC has contacted the Kremlin for comment.

‘We were fired the day after we met’

Mr. Mintz was first introduced to Mr. Putin in the early 1990s, but he was not properly spoken to until January 2, 2000, two days after Mr. Putin was named Russia’s acting president.

Mr Mints, who worked under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, is keen to discuss his plans to reform local government to develop Russia’s democracy into the 21st century.

“Mr Putin took my advice and made no comments or arguments. The next day, Putin fired me,” he said.

He knew then that Putin’s vision for his country was “far removed” from the vision of the previous administration.

Three years later, Mr. Mintz left politics to start a stockbroking business for individual clients.

Unlike other Russian businessmen identified with close ties to the Kremlin, Mr Mints has not been sanctioned by the British government.

However, his name did appear in The so-called “Putin List” Of the 210 names published in the U.S. in 2018, 114 were listed as members of or associated with the government, or key businessmen.

96 others, including Mr Mints, Listed as an oligarch Apparently, it was more because they were worth over $1bn (£710m) at the time than their close ties to the Kremlin.

The father of four climbed the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires with a combined fortune of $1.3 billion in 2017, but he fell in 2018.

Boris Mintz at the opening ceremony of the 2016 World Chess Championship at the Plaza Hotel in New York City

Mr Mints now lives in the UK but does not have a UK passport

But he denied claims he was an oligarch.

“Not every Russian entrepreneur supports Putin, and likewise not every rich Russian is an ‘oligarch’,” he said. “In Russia, the term refers to business leaders close to Putin, whose wealth or corporate profits depend on cooperation with the Russian government.

“Russia is more than just a bauxite-centric oil field,” he added. “It’s a country of 140 million people. People there have their needs just like anywhere else, and those needs are not that different from the needs of the West.”

Mr Mints, who now lives in the UK, is an avid art collector who doesn’t need extra security measures to keep himself and his family safe in the UK, feels comfortable and has no current ambitions to move back to Russia.

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