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Oleg Y. Tinkov was worth more than $ 9 billion in November, known as one of Russia’s few self-made business magnates after building his fortune outside the energy and mineral industry, which were Russian playgrounds. kleptokrati.

So, last month, Mr. criticized Tinkov, the founder of one of Russia’s largest banks, the war in Ukraine in a post on Instagram. The next day, he said, President Vladimir V. Putin’s administration contacted his leaders and threatened to nationalize his bank if it did not sever ties with him. Last week, he sold his 35 percent stake to a Russian mining billionaire in what he describes as a “desperate sale, a fire sale,” which was imposed on him by the Kremlin.

“I could not discuss the price,” said Mr. Tinkov. “It was like a hostage – you take what you are offered. I could not negotiate.”

Mr. Tinkov, 54, spoke to The New York Times on the phone Sunday, from a place he would not disclose, in his first interview since Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine. He said he had hired bodyguards after friends with contacts in the Russian security services told him he should fear for his life, saying that even if he had survived leukemia, “the Kremlin might kill me.”

It was a quick and shocking bliss for a longtime billionaire who for years had avoided running into conflict with Mr Putin while portraying himself as independent of the Kremlin. His downfall underscores the consequences for those in the Russian elite who dare to cross their president, and helps explain why there has only been silence from business leaders who, according to Mr. Tinkov are concerned about the impact of the war on their lifestyle. and their wallets.

Credit…Alexey Malgavko / Reuters

In fact, Mr. Tinkov that many of his acquaintances in business and the government elite told him privately that they agreed with him, “but they are all scared.”

In the interview, Mr. Tinkov opposes the war more strongly than any other major Russian business leader has done.

“I have realized that Russia, as a country, no longer exists,” he said. Tinkov and predicted that Mr. Putin would remain in power for a long time. “I thought Putin’s regime was bad. But, of course, I had no idea that it would take such a catastrophic scale. “

The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment.

Tinkoff, banks Mr. Tinkov started in 2006, denying his characterization of events, saying there had been “no threats of any kind against the bank’s management.” The bank, which announced last Thursday that Mr. Tinkov had sold his entire stake in the company to a company run by Vladimir Potanin, a mining magnate close to Mr. Putin, seemed to distance himself from its founder.

“Oleg has not been in Moscow for many years, did not participate in the life of the company and was not involved in any cases,” Tinkoff said in a statement.

Mr. Tinkov has also run into problems in the West. He agreed to pay $ 507 million last year to settle a tax fraud case in the United States. In March, Britain included him on a list of sanctions against the Russian business elite.

“These oligarchs, corporations and hired thugs are complicit in the killing of innocent civilians, and it is true that they are paying the price,” Secretary of State Liz Truss said at the time.

Mr. Tinkov is nonetheless commonly seen as a rare Russian business pioneer who models his maverick capitalism on Richard Branson and transforms from a disrespectful brewer to the founder of one of the world’s most sophisticated online banks. He says he has never set foot in the Kremlin and has occasionally criticized Mr Putin.

But unlike Russian tycoons who broke up with Mr Putin years ago and now live in exile, such as former oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky or tech entrepreneur Pavel Durov, Mr Tinkov found a way to coexist with the Kremlin and make billions – at least until 19 April.

That was when Mr. Tinkov posted an emotional anti-war post on Instagram, calling the invasion “crazy” and mocking Russia’s military: “Why should we have a good army,” he asked if everything else in the country is dysfunctional, and bound into nepotism, slavery and submissiveness? ”

Pro-war Russians posted pictures of their shredded Tinkoff debit card on social media. Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent state television host, delivered a tirade against him, declaring, “Your conscience is rotten.”

Credit…Sergei Kivrin for The New York Times

Mr. Tinkov was already outside Russia at the time, having traveled in 2019 to receive treatment for leukemia. He later resigned and relinquished control of Tinkoff, but retained a 35 per cent stake in the company, which last year was valued at more than $ 20 billion on the London Stock Exchange.

One day after the post on April 19, Mr. Tinkov on Sunday that the Kremlin contacted the bank’s senior executives and told them that any connection with their founder was now a major problem.

“They said, ‘Your shareholder’s statement is not welcome and we will nationalize your bank if he does not sell it and the owner does not change and if you do not change the name’,” Mr. Tinkov said, citing sources at Tinkoff’s, he declined to identify.

On April 22, Tinkoff announced that it would change its name this year, a move it claims was long planned. Behind the scenes, says Mr. Tinkov, he fought to sell his stake – a stake that had already been devalued by Western sanctions against Russia’s financial system.

Mr. Tinkov said he was grateful to Mr. Potanin, the mining magnate, for allowing him to save at least some money from his firm; he said he could not disclose a price but that he had sold at 3 percent of what he believed was the true value of his share.

“They made me sell it because of my statements,” Mr. Tinkov. “I sold it for kopek.”

He had nevertheless considered selling his share, Mr. Tinkov, because “as long as Putin is alive, I doubt anything will change.”

“I do not believe in Russia’s future,” he said. “Most importantly, I am not prepared to associate my brand and my name with a country that is attacking its neighbors for no reason at all.”

Mr. Tinkov is worried that a fund he started, which is dedicated to improving blood cancer treatment in Russia, could also fall victim to his financial problems.

He denied that he spoke in the hope of having the British sanctions against him lifted, although he said he hoped the British government would eventually “correct this mistake.”

He said his illness – he now suffers from graft-versus-host disease, a stem cell transplant complication, he said – could have made him more courageous to speak out than other Russian business leaders and senior officials. Members of the elite, he claimed, are “in shock” over the war and have called him in large numbers to offer support.

“They understand that they are tied to the West, that they are part of the global market, and so on,” said Mr. Tinkov. “They are fast, fast being transformed into Iran. But they do not like it. They want their children to spend their summer holidays in Sardinia.”

Mr. Tinkov said no one from the Kremlin had ever contacted him directly, but that in addition to the pressure on his company, he heard from friends with security service contacts that he could be in physical danger.

“They told me, ‘The decision regarding you has been made,'” he said. “I do not know if that means they will kill me. I do not rule it out. “

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