Vladimir Potanin: Russia’s richest businessman has a warning for Putin

Vladimir Potaninpresident of the metallurgical giant Norilsk Nickel (NILSI) and its largest shareholder said that Russia risks returning to the turbulent days of the 1917 revolution if it slams the door on Western companies and investors. He urged the Russian government to exercise extreme caution regarding the seizure of assets.

“Firstly, it will take us back a hundred years, to 1917, and we will experience the consequences of such a step — global distrust of Russia on the part of investors — for many decades,” he said in a message posted on the Norilsk Nickel website. . Telegram account on Thursday.

“Secondly, the decision of many companies to suspend their activities in Russia is, I would say, somewhat emotional in nature and could be taken as a result of unprecedented pressure on them from public opinion abroad. So most likely they will come back. I personally would leave that option for them,” he added.

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 in the Norilsk Nickel stock crash. The company’s shares lost more than 90% in London trading before they were suspended this month despite a sharp rise in prices for its goods.

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

Dozens of American, European and Japanese companies have divested 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 a full exit from Russia since the crisis erupted in February.

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

“We need to act decisively with those [companies] who are going to close their factories,” Putin said in a video posted by the Kremlin and broadcast to state media. “Then we need to… introduce external management, and then transfer these enterprises to those who want to work,” he added.

A Russian consumer rights organization has drawn up a list of companies that have decided to leave and may be nationalized, according to a report by the Russian newspaper Izvestiya, later quoted by the state news agency TASS.

The document, which was reportedly sent to the Russian government and the Prosecutor General’s Office, includes 59 companies, including Volkswagen, Apple, IKEA, Microsoft, IBM, Shell, McDonald’s, Porsche, Toyota, H&M, and may be supplemented by other brands. “News”. said.

Potanin said it was not particularly appropriate to talk about the nationalization of Western assets, but the Kremlin’s proposal could allow “owners to keep property, and companies to avoid collapse, continue to produce products and pay workers.”

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

He also urged Russia to ease restrictions on foreign exchange so that interest can be paid on foreign bonds and loans. Otherwise, there was a risk that the country could default on all of its external debt, which he estimates is about $480 billion.

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