Written by 3:53 pm Europe Economy

Mikhail Khodorkovsky urges west to send more weapons to Ukraine

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has called on the west to step up arms supplies to Ukraine, or risk handing victory to the invasion forces of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, said the huge economic damage being dealt to the European economy every day by spiralling gas prices should spur Ukraine’s allies to accelerate arms deliveries and help hasten an end to the war.

“Had they supplied $50bn of weapons to Ukraine, the situation today, both for Ukraine and for Putin, would be very different. We just need to understand that there are situations when the issue can only be resolved by force,” he said at the FT Weekend festival. “If you ask me how can the west help Ukraine? I’ll give you a one-word answer: weapons.”

He also warned that failing to increase arms shipments could have dire consequences. “With the level of weapons supplies we see now, Ukraine is quite likely to — or can — lose this war. Putin realises this full well.”

European gas prices have soared since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine in February. On Friday, Russia suspended natural gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline indefinitely, putting a tighter squeeze on supply and heightening expectations of a widespread European recession.

The German government on Sunday announced a €65bn package to help contain the damage from the jump in households and companies’ energy bills.

Khodorkovsky also warned Ukraine’s allies of the dangers of seeking to engage or negotiate with Moscow.

“When western leaders say we should allow Putin to save face, I don’t think that’s understanding him. I think they are misunderstanding the situation,” he said. “He thinks he should move as far as possible, then have a short respite having convinced Western leaders they should talk to him, and then move further.”

Khodorkovsky when asked whether the economic sanctions imposed on Russia were having the desired effect, said people should stop focusing on Moscow’s finances and instead look at the broader impact.

“Your wallet could be building with money, but there are no goods in the shops, you’ll still die a hungry man”, he said. “That is exactly what’s happening in the Russian economy today, particularly in high-tech. Weapons-making factories today just cannot produce high-grade, modern weapons because they’re short of electronics.”

He also said the war and the resultant sanctions had caused a severe brain drain from Russia that would compromise Moscow’s capacity for military aggression.

“Those young professionals who are leaving Russia today going to the west, they actually are taking with them the knowhow of how to develop technologically. And of course this is dealing a blow, not only to Putin’s economy, but also to his ability to continue the war.”

A longstanding critic of Putin, Khodorkovsky described Russia’s president as a “gangster” and a “mafia man”. After publicly complaining about corruption and trying to sell his oil company Yukos to ExxonMobil, the then oligarch was sentenced to jail for tax evasion. After his release in 2014, he relocated to the UK where he now lives in exile.

Khodorkovsky dismissed suggestions that the recent death of Ravil Maganov, the chair of Lukoil, was politically motivated. Maganov fell from a sixth floor window of a Moscow hospital last week.

“He was gravely ill. And his colleagues — those I’ve had a chance to talk to — think that he really didn’t see a chance of survival because of the state of health he was in,” Khodorkovsky said.

However, he pointed the finger at the FSB, Russia’s state security services, for a car bombing that killed the daughter of a prominent Putin ally.

“At the moment all we can do is speculate”, he said of the death of Daria Dugina, who died when her car blew up in a Moscow suburb in August. The vehicle belonged to her father Alexander Dugin, a high-profile supporter of Russia’s invasion. Khodorkovsky suggested that such ultranationalists could become a problem for Putin if he chose to pause or slow military action in Ukraine.

“This appears to be more likely a provocation by the FSB,” he said.

The full interview and other content from the FT Weekend festival can be viewed by registering here.

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