Blacklisted Putin ally says stands strong by Ukraine policy
Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, who has been hit with US sanctions, said Monday he and other businessmen will not be cowed by pressure from Washington into asking Vladimir Putin to change his stance over Ukraine.
In a rare wide-ranging interview to state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS, Timchenko said being put on the blacklist has been inconvenient but that he fully supports Russia's "sovereign" policy.
Asked whether he and other businessmen would eventually go to the Kremlin and ask President Putin to soften his stance on Ukraine, Timchenko said this was "out of the question".
"Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) is guided by Russian interests in any situation," he said. "There can be no compromise here. It would not even cross our minds to discuss the issue."
Reports recently indicated that Russia's business community is horrified by US and EU sanctions and the threat of further measures, which has hastened capital outflow and threatened to send the economy into a downward spiral.
"I am not suffering, though there is a certain discomfort," said Timchenko, who is a Finnish citizen but said he moved back to Russia and rarely travels now because of "serious threat of provocations by US security services".
The US Treasury has said that Timchenko is a member of Putin's "inner circle" whose "activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin" and that the Russian president has access to funds in Timchenko's business empire.
Although Timchenko said he does not want to talk about his friendship with Putin, he revealed that his dog Romi came from the first litter of Putin's beloved labrador Connie.
Posing for photos for ITAR-TASS in his cavernous mansion adorned with Soviet paintings, the reclusive Timchenko also said he does not use a computer and prefers a walkie-talkie over a mobile phone out of fear of tapping.
He has had to ground his Gulfstream plane as the US sanctions forbid the manufacturer from servicing it.
"America is angry because we did not bow down before them like everyone else. That's why their reaction is so hostile."
The opposition sees Timchenko's friendship with the Russian leader as the sole driver of his success in business.
Ranked by Forbes as Russia's sixth wealthiest person, his fortune was estimated in April at more than $15 billion (11 billion euros).
The vast business conglomerate, whose activities range from pipeline building to gas transportation and road construction, has won lucrative government contracts without competition, the opposition alleges.
© 2014 AFP