Tycoon Deripaska casts doubt on Russia quest for "victory" in Ukraine

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Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 17, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

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LONDON, June 28 (Reuters) - Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska suggested on Tuesday that no winner would emerge from Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and highlighted the economic price that Russia was paying for its actions.

Deripaska's comments to reporters in Moscow represented a rare public questioning of the Kremlin's rationale for the war by one of Russia's richest men. He was careful to avoid directly criticising President Vladimir Putin.

"I'm troubled by how quickly we abandoned everything that was achieved (economically) in the 90s, then we abandoned everything that we achieved in the 2000s, and now we are sitting and waiting for victory. Victory of what? Whose victory?" Deripaska asked.

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He added: "I think that destroying Ukraine would be a colossal mistake, including for us."

Rising levels of prosperity had been linked to the development of Russia's private sector and building ties with the rest of Europe as Russia's main economic partner, he said.

But it was "obvious" that Western sanctions were now hurting Russia more than Europe, said Deripaska, founder of Russian aluminium giant Rusal (RUAL.MM).

That contrasts with the argument repeatedly voiced by Putin that sanctions are rebounding on Western economies, triggering their highest inflation in decades, and that Russia will emerge stronger and more self-sufficient.

Deripaska - himself under sanctions from the United States, Britain and the European Union - said, however, that he had underestimated how stable Russia's economy would prove to be.

Nor did he see any threat to its political leadership.

"There is no potential for regime change in Russia. The opposition preferred beautiful European views and retreated from the life of the country," Deripaska said.

Many of Russia's leading opposition figures, especially associates of jailed Kremlic critic Alexei Navalny, have fled to other European countries to escape being prosecuted.

Deripaska, 54, is one of a group of businessmen known as oligarchs who control large parts of the economy, especially in energy and commodities, and have been able to preserve their fortunes on condition that they stay out of politics.

Putin calls the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine a special military operation to demilitarise and "denazify" the country, a line rejected by Kyiv and the West as baseless war propaganda. The Kremlin on Tuesday repeated its assertions that the operation was going according to plan.

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Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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Thomson Reuters

Chief writer on Russia and CIS. Worked as a journalist on 7 continents and reported from 40+ countries, with postings in London, Wellington, Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin. Covered the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Security correspondent from 2003 to 2008. Speaks French, Russian and (rusty) German and Polish.