Russian oligarch: 90% of Russians hate this "crazy war" -- and Putin needs a face-saving out

Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Did a crack just appear in Vladimir Putin’s domestic standing? One oligarch with his Instagram access still in place blasted Putin’s invasion as a “crazy war,” and refuted the widespread reporting that Russians supported it. Oleg Tinkov, who founded the second-largest credit-card company in Russia, declared that 90% of the country opposed the war — and that Putin knows it:

Wealthy Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov on Tuesday condemned what he called Moscow’s “crazy war” in Ukraine, saying 90% of his countrymen did not support it and calling on the West to offer Vladimir Putin a dignified way to withdraw.

“I don’t see a single beneficiary of this crazy war! Innocent people and soldiers are dying,” Tinkov, who founded Tinkoff Bank, Russia’s second biggest credit card issuer, wrote in an Instagram post, one of the most outspoken broadsides against the conflict by a Russian tycoon. …

Several Russian billionaires have publicly called for peace, but many Russians have rallied to the Kremlin, which has whipped up support with a publicity campaign using the “Z” logo of the armed forces.

“Of course there are morons who draw Z, but 10% of any country are morons. 90% of Russians are AGAINST this war!” wrote Tinkov, who has denied having any close relationship with Putin or the Kremlin.

Who exactly is Oleg Tinkov? Thus far, he’s been among the quieter oligarchs that prospered under Putin’s rule, but he’s either about to get a lot more famous or a lot closer to room temperature. However, AFP notes that Tinkov no longer owns his bank, having sold it off two years ago. It also appears that Tinkov is no longer in Russia either:

Tinkoff Bank said in a statement it would not comment on Tinkov’s “private opinion”, saying he no longer took decisions regarding operations across companies under the Tinkoff brand.

“He is not a Tinkoff employee, has not been in Russia for a long time and has been dealing with health issues in recent years,” the statement added.

If that’s true, then Tinkov may not exactly have his finger on the pulse of popular opinion. On the other hand, Tinkoff Bank has lots of reasons to cast aspersions on its founder-turned-dissident, and most of them rhyme with Shootin’. As in, that’s what they can expect if they don’t publicly reject their former owner. Still, one would imagine that Tinkoff still has plenty of contacts in Russia and might have a better grasp on public sentiment than, say, reporters who use public-opinion surveys while assuming their value approximates those conducted in environments where dissent isn’t punished.

Just how much influence Tinkov has otherwise is hard to guess. Forbes is pretty sure that Western sanctions have taken Tinkov out of the ten-figure club, for instance:

Oleg Tinkov became one of the richest men in Russia after hopping from selling beer and dumplings to floating his digital bank Tinkoff on the London Stock Exchange. Tinkoff shares slumped more than 90% since the start of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. His fortune has fallen more than $5 billion in less than a month, and on Tuesday he lost his billionaire status.

Tinkov is one of at least 10 former Russian billionaires to have dropped out of the three comma club as a result of Russian stocks tanking, and the ruble hitting record lows against the dollar, amid sanctions and increasing isolation of Russia by the West. Other notable drop-offs include Arkady Volozh, CEO and founder of Russian search engine Yandex.

Forbes estimates that Tinkov’s net worth has now shrunk to around $800 million. That’s because a significant portion of his wealth is tied up in Russia’s take on Capital One, Tinkoff Bank, whose market cap fell from a high of $23 billion in November to just over $1 billion on Tuesday.

Well, $800 billion is still pretty impressive, I guess, especially given the economic prospects for those still in Russia. That’s not so much the question, though, as much as whether Tinkov’s correct about true public opinion in Russia. If 90% of the country really opposes this war, then Putin’s propaganda is as effective as his military — and might end up collapsing on him. Tinkov has some colorful observations about Putin’s military, and he also thinks Putin’s generals have begun to realize their predicament:

“Kremlin officials are shocked that neither they or their children will be off to the Mediterranean in the summer. Businessmen are trying to save the rest of their property,” Tinkov added, according to Reuters.

He said Russian generals are “waking up with a hangover, realized that they had a shitty army,” adding, “And how could the army be good if everything else in the country is shit and mired in nepotism, sycophancy and servility?”

With all that said, Tinkov advises the West to figure out a face-saving way out for Putin before he gets really desperate:

In English, he called on the “collective West” to “please give Mr. Putin a clear exit to save his face and stop this massacre.”

What would that even look like, though? It’s really gone too far to give Putin an easy out now. He’s laying waste to cities in Ukraine, Russian forces are committing war crimes by the boatload, and Russia will likely see many of its assets seized to finance the rebuilding that will be necessary in Ukraine when it’s over. Before all of that took place, Putin might have been able to force Zelensky into coughing up the Donbas region in return for security guarantees. Now, though, no one’s going to trust Putin to keep his word, and Zelensky can’t give up any ground and keep his nation united against Russia.

If Tinkov wants a rational solution to Putin, maybe he should direct this cri de coeur to his fellow oligarchs.