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Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s Richest Businessman, Warns Putin

(CNN Business) — Russia’s wealthiest businessman has urged the Kremlin not to seize the assets of companies that have fled the country in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion, warning that such a move could set the country back more than 100 years.

Vladimir Potanin, chairman of metal giant Norilsk Nickel and its majority shareholder, said Russia risks a return to the tumultuous days of the 1917 revolution if it closes the door on Western companies and investors. He urged the Russian government to proceed with extreme caution regarding the expropriation of assets.

“First of all, it would take us back a hundred years, to 1917, and the consequences of such a move, the global investor distrust of Russia, we would experience for many decades,” he said in a message posted Thursday on Russia’s Telegram account. Norilsk Nickel.

“Secondly, the decision of many companies to suspend their operations in Russia is, I would say, somewhat emotional in nature and may have been taken as a result of unprecedented pressure on them from public opinion abroad. The more likely it is that they will come back. And personally, I would keep that opportunity for them.”

Potanin is Russia’s richest billionaire and is still worth about $22.5 billion, according to Bloomberg, despite losing about a quarter of his fortune this year as Norilsk Nickel shares plunged. Shares of the company lost more than 90% in London trading before it was suspended this month, despite rising prices for its raw materials.

Norilsk Nickel is the world’s largest producer of high-quality palladium and nickel, as well as a major producer of platinum and copper. The company and its primary products have been spared the sanctions imposed by Western countries that have hit the Russian economy.

Dozens of US, European and Japanese companies have abandoned joint ventures, factories, stores, offices and other assets in the past two weeks in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions. They were joined on Thursday by Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, the first major Western banks to announce they will leave Russia entirely since the crisis erupted in February.

These are the assets confiscated from Russian oligarchs 2:29

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he supported a plan to introduce “external management” of foreign companies leaving Russia.

“We have to act decisively with those [empresas] that they are going to shut down their production,” Putin said, according to a video released by the Kremlin and broadcast by state media. “It is necessary, then… to introduce external management and then transfer these companies to those who want to work,” he added.

The Russian consumer rights organization created a list of companies that have decided to leave and could be nationalized, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Izvestiya later quoted by the state news agency TASS.

The document, reportedly sent to the Russian government and the Prosecutor General’s Office, lists 59 companies, including Volkswagen, Apple, IKEA, Microsoft, IBM, Shell, McDonald’s, Porsche, Toyota and H&M, and may be updated with more brands, according to Izvestiya.

Potanin said it was not particularly timely to talk about nationalizing Western assets, but the Kremlin’s proposal could allow “owners to keep ownership, and companies to avoid collapse, continue to produce and pay employees.”

“I understand that in light of the economic restrictions directed against Russia, there may be an understandable desire to act symmetrically,” he wrote. “But if we look at the example of Western countries, we see that the economies of these countries suffer from the imposition of sanctions against Russia. We must be wiser and avoid a scenario where retaliatory sanctions affect us ourselves.” .

He also called for Russia to ease foreign exchange restrictions so he could pay interest on foreign bonds and loans. Otherwise, there is a risk that the country will default on all of its foreign debt, which he estimated at some US$480 billion.

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