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One of Russia's Richest Men May Be Its Most Tortured Patriot

Gennady Timchenko, one of Russia's richest men and a close ally of Putin, got hit by American sanctions in March. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Gennady Timchenko, one of Russia's richest men and a close ally of Putin, got hit by American sanctions in March. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Since he landed on an American sanctions list in March, life has gotten tough for Gennady Timchenko, a Russian oligarch and one of Putin's closest allies. But Timchenko, now a Finnish citizen with business interests in Western Europe, says he still considers Russia his true home.

The world learned a lot about Gennady Timchenko, one the richest men in
Russia and close friend of President Vladimir Putin, in his recent tell-all interview (translated into English here) with ITAR-TASS. We learned about his Labrador (the spawn of Putin's own dog!), his Socialist Realist art collection, his computer illiteracy, his citizenship (Finland and Russia), and where he pays taxes (Switzerland and Russia). We were also given a detailed record of how the US sanctions are affecting Mr. Timchenko’s life. For example, he claims that he was unable to pay for his wife’s back surgery in Switzerland because his credit cards were blocked. He’s since ditched his Visa and Mastercard for Chinese plastic. He’s unwilling to leave Russia and be with his family in Europe because of “possible provocations by the U.S. secret services.”

But Timchenko is steadfast in his loyalty to the motherland. He asserts that the sanctions, which Western leaders hope will make Russian businessmen pressure Putin to stand down, won’t work. “[Pressure on Putin] can be ruled out. Vladimir Vladimirovich is only thinking about the interests of Russia. Full stop. There can be no compromise here. And it won't even cross our [businessmen's] minds to speak out about this subject [. . .] It is naive to think that with such methods anyone will scare us or force us to retreat.” To show his devotion to the Russian state, and by extension, Putin, Timchenko declares that he and his wife don't really need all those billions. “I can speak for myself clearly and definitively: if it is necessary, then tomorrow I will give it all to the state. Or to charity. So it can be useful.” Timchenko wants the world to know that despite his hardships, he remains a Russian patriot.

Unsurprisingly, Timchenko’s interview generated a lot of commentary on the RuNet. There wasn’t much sympathy, to say the least.

Ivan Kolpakov, a former reporter for Lenta.ru, spewed vitriol on Facebook about having read the interview, and even snuck in a Game of Thrones reference:

Утро напрочь испоганено ИТАР-ТАССом и Геннадием Тимченко — как будто говна поел, буквально. Вообще, мы живем в эпоху невероятного, поразительного по масштабам бесстыдства; где хочу пописаю, где хочу покакаю; какая-то бесконечная оргия в заповедном лесу [. . .] Самое неприятное в этой ситуации — ощущать себя Теоном Грейджоем, который попал в плен к жестокому психопату Рамси Сноу. Что этот изобретательный Рамси придумает сегодня или завтра — одному богу известно. В любом случае все мы уже Вонючки.

ITAR-TASS and Gennady Timchenko completely fucked up my morning. It was as if I ate shit, literally. In general we live in an age of incredible and astonishing scale of shamelessness. I piss where I want and crap where I want. Like some kind of perpetual orgy in a forbidden forest [. . .] The most annoying thing about this situation is that I feel like Theon Greyjoy, who was a prisoner of that brutal psychopath Ramsay Snow. What this resourceful Ramsay could come up with today or tomorrow—God only knows. In any case we are all Reek.

Ekaterina Vinokurova, who writes for Znak.com, also went on Facebook to comment on the interview and what it revealed about Putin's relationship with Russia's oligarchic class:

Из интервью Тимченко мы должны понять, мне кажется, важную вещь.
Одним из важных пунктов госпропаганды все нулевые было сравнение с 90-ми, в частности – с “семибанкирщиной”. Путину ставили в заслугу “равноудаление” олигархов от власти и политики.
Из этого интервью мы видим, что ничегошеньки на смао деле не поменялось.
При Ельцине были Березовский, Гусинский, “семья” и прочая.
У Путина – Тимченко, Ковальчуки, Ротенберги.
[. . .]
А олигархат остался олигархатом.

I think we need to understand one important thing from Timchenko's interview. One of the important points of state propaganda in the 2000s was constant comparison to the 1990s, in particular, with the “Cabal of the Seven Bankers.” Putin has been credited with keeping the oligarchs equidistant from both power and politics. From this interview we see that nothing has actually changed.
Under Yeltsin there was Berezovsky, Gusinsky, the “Family,” etc.
Putin now has Timchenko, Kovalchuk, and the Rotenbergs.
[. . .]
And the oligarchy remains an oligarchy.

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov reasoned that the “patriot” Timchenko gave the interview to suck up to Putin in preparation for the next skimming of the state budget. Nemtsov observed on Facebook:

[. . .]
Патриот имеет финское гражданство, а налоги патриотично платит в Швейцарии.
Сейчас из за санкций бедолага не может отдохнуть на Лазурном берегу, а дети вынуждены приезжать в Россию.. Какой кошмар! На какие муки обрекли патриота Тимченко проклятые американские супостаты !
Зачем Тимченко дал это интервью? Зачем кокетливо заявил, что в любой момент готов вернуть миллиардный бизнес государству? Моя версия- готовится очередной распил бюджетных средств на ЧМ-2018, на Крым и инфраструктуру. Нужно глубоко и сладострастно лизнуть, чтобы конкуренты- Ротенберги, Ковальчуки, Чемезовы не опередили. Так что ничего личного.
Только распилы, только бизнес..

[. . .]
The patriot has Finnish citizenship and patriotically pays his taxes in Switzerland.
Now because of the sanctions the poor guy can’t chill out in Côte d'Azur, and his children must come to Russia. What a nightmare! The damned American enemies have condemned the patriot Timchenko to such torment!
Why did Timchenko give this interview? Why coyly say that he’d give up his billion dollar business to the state at the drop of a hat? My version: He’s preparing for the next siphoning off of the budget funds for the World Cup 2018 and the infrastructure in Crimea.  You need to deeply and lustfully lick so the competitors—the Rotenbergs, the Kovalchuks and the Chemezovs—don’t get ahead of you. So it’s nothing personal.
It’s only kickbacks, only business…

Opposition activist and politician Ilya Yashin poked fun at Timchenko the martyr. He tweeted:

The martyr-oligarch Timchenko: The sanctions separated him from his favorite dog. And this citizen of Finland has always considered Russia his home.

Similarly, journalist Andrey Konyaev sneered at Timchenko's patriotic statements:

The citizen of Finland convinces us that his soul aches for Russia. Especially now when the sanctions are pressing down on [him].

Life for Mr. Timchenko is apparently hard under Western sanctions. And the RuNet weeps for him.

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