Boris Mints is one of the few wealthy Russian businessmen to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin.
Most high-profile people in the country have kept quiet about the war, avoiding criticism of the Kremlin.
According to Mintsthere is a simple explanation: “Everyone is afraid”.
The Kremlin is known for cracking down on those who openly criticize President Putin, who controls the content of Russian news channels.
Unauthorized protests have also been banned in the country since 2014.
Mints said that “anyone” who openly criticizes Putin “you have reason to be concerned about your personal safety”.
However, in an email interview, he told the BBC: “I have no intention of living in a bomb shelter like Putin does.”
The 64-year-old billionaire, who got rich with the investment company O1 Group which he founded in 2003 and sold in 2018, said that in Russia the “usual way” to punish a businessman for his “intolerance” towards the regime was to “open a fabricated criminal case against his business”.
“Such criminal cases will affect not only the business owners themselves, but also their families and employees,” he said.
“Any independent business leader [de Putin] it is seen as a threat because it could finance the opposition or fuel protests. Therefore, they are seen as enemies of Putin and therefore enemies of the state,” he added.
It’s a situation where Mints has first-hand experience.
In 2014 he spoke publicly for the first time against the policies of President Putin after Crimea was annexed to Russia and seized from Ukraine.
A year later, he began to feel that he should leave Russia “in the context of a growing crackdown on political opposition.”
This year Boris Nemtsov was shot dead.
Nemtsov was a fierce adversary of President Putin.
His death in 2015 is the highest-profile political assassination since Putin came to power.
Authorities deny any involvement.
Two years later, Mints’ former investment firm, O1 Group, “found itself in an open conflict with the Central Bank of Russia“, he said, and legal proceedings were launched in several different jurisdictions.
“When things like this start to happen, it’s a clear sign that one should leave the country immediately,” he said.
It is currently still the subject of legal action by the Kremlin.
Because of that, Mints suggests that the “boldest step available” for wealthy Russians who don’t like Putin is “go into exile quietly”.
And cites the case of MikhailKhodorkovskywho was once Russia’s richest man, but was jailed for nearly a decade on fraud and tax evasion charges that Mints says were politically motivated.
Two of the country’s most prominent oligarchs, Michael Friedman and Oleg Deripaskaavoided direct criticism of Putin when they made separate calls for peace in Ukraine.
Fridman, a billionaire banker, said any personal comments could be a risk not only to himself but also to staff and colleagues.
However, Russian tycoon Oleg Tinkov, founder of Tinkoff Bank and former owner of the Tinkoff-Saxo cycling team, joined Mints in criticizing the invasion.
Mints called President Putin’s actions “vile” and said the invasion is “the most tragic event in recent history, not just in Ukraine and Russia, but globally.”
Also compared it to the invasion of Poland by Adolf Hitler in 1939.
“This war is the result of madness and hunger for power of a single person, Vladimir Putin, supported by his inner circle,” said Mints, who was chairman of one of Russia’s largest pension asset managers until 2018.
The BBC has contacted the Kremlin for comment.
Mints was first introduced to Putin in the early 1990s, but only spoke properly to him on January 2, 2000, two days after Putin was named Russia’s interim president.
Mints, who worked with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, he was eager to discuss his plans to reform the local government of which he was a part and grow Russian democracy in the 21st century.
“Putin listened to my suggestions without comment or argument. The next day, Putin fired me,” he said.
then he knew that Putin’s vision for his country was ‘miles away’ of the previous government.
After leaving politics, Mints founded, three years later, a brokerage company for individual clients.
Mints has not been sanctioned by the UK governmentunlike other Russian businessmen identified as having close ties to the Kremlin.
However, his name did appear on the so-called “Putin list” published by the US in 2018.
The other 96 were listed as oligarchs worth more than $1 billion at the time, rather than because of their close ties to the Kremlin.
Entered the world list of billionaires Forbes in 2017 with a total wealth of $1.3 billionbefore leaving in 2018.
But he dismissed suggestions that he is an oligarch.
“Not all Russian businessmen are pro-Putinand not all rich Russians are ‘oligarchs,’ either,” he said.
“In Russia, the term means a business leader who is highly connected to Putin and most of his wealth, or the profits from their businesses, depend on cooperation with the state russian.
“Russia is not just an oil field with an aluminum mine in the middle,” he added.
“It is a country of 140 million people. People there, like everywhere else, have their needs and these needs are no different from here in the West.”
Now living in the UK, Mints, an avid art collector, feel comfortable without the need for additional security to keep himself and his family safe in the country, and he currently has no ambition to return to Russia.