Bill Browder about Putin, sanctions and ways to end the war

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been subject to international sanctions and his personal assets have been confiscated. Or, at least, he seems to own that asset.

More effective, perhaps, is sanctions against Russian oligarchs in Mr Putin’s orbit. This is not necessarily because these well-connected, world-traveling billionaires could put pressure on the president to change the course of the war in Ukraine. William F. According to Browder, the reason is that most of their vast wealth is in Putin’s favor.

Mr Browder, once Russia’s main investor, has become one of the Kremlin’s biggest enemies. Russia has made several attempts to direct Interpol to arrest him. And he is a thorn in the side of Mr. Putin that Russian President Donald J. During his first official summit with Trump, he was named.

What did he do to attract such anger? Mr Browder ran one of the largest hedge funds in Russia in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. But his public struggle against corporate corruption eventually led to his expulsion from Russia in 2005 as a “threat to national security.”

In 2009, his tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was investigating government money laundering, was arrested and died in a Moscow prison about a year later at the age of 37. Death of lawyer with injunction. At Mr. Browder’s request, similar laws have been passed around the world.

This makes Mr. Browder extremely aware of the effects of sanctions on Russia’s political and business elite, at least not Mr. Putin. Now that world leaders have repeatedly imposed sanctions on Russia over its aggression on Ukraine, he has come up with a unique perspective on how these measures could affect Mr Putin’s calculations.

Prior to the publication of his new book, The Freezing Order, Dilbuk spoke with Mr. Browder about ending the war in Ukraine, the impact that oligarchs have had, and what has inspired Mr. Putin. Conversations have been edited and condensed.

What do you think Mr. Putin’s last game at this time?

Putin is a dictator. One of the great advantages of dictatorship is that it can steal as much money as it wants. And he likes to steal a lot.

After a while, in a country where people think they are in a democracy, they begin to see that they are hungry and that they are not being cared for in hospitals and that their children are not being educated. They start to get angry, and they get angry at the man in charge. And so every once in a while, the person in charge has to do something so that people are less angry with him.

The purpose of these wars was that he was afraid of being overthrown. And so the best way to do that is to rally around the leader. And so when you talk about one last game, there is no end game. This is just to stay in his power.

As Mr. Putin’s long-term target – and what inspires him to try to better understand what I imagine – what do you think he is thinking?

The problem is that there are some psychological traits that feed into this whole thing, which makes it a particularly toxic alcohol. The world he lives in is like a prison yard. This is a world where everyone is looking at each other aggressively and everyone has to show strength to each other. You know, the strongest person in a yard has to be the most evil person to hold their power.

And so his idea was to destroy Ukraine and then push it to his chest and show everyone how strong he is. But the misconception of how effectively the Ukrainians are fighting has fooled him. And for the prison yard type person, this is the worst thing that can happen.

Do you think he understands that?

Of course.

Do you think everyone around him is a yes person?

It’s not just the people around him. It is also the people of the West. The Ukrainians successfully fought and showed him huge disrespect. And so, for example, the war crimes that have been committed are not accidental. It’s part of his thing.

He must show that he and his people and everyone around him are so wicked. They just keep growing and advancing, and they don’t care what people think of them. In fact, they want people to think these bad things about them because it makes them look more cruel.

Given what you’re saying, what’s a reasonable way to think about the last game?

There is no reasonable way to end this thing. There is only one irrational way.

Either he occupied Ukraine and then made his way to the Baltic states to challenge us in NATO – or to defeat him near Ukraine and then the Russian people ousted him because he was a weak man who could not be defeated. Ukraine.

How do you do all this cool stuff?

I think each of these options has a 15 percent chance.

What is the probability of the remaining 70 percent?

That he and the Ukrainians and all of us are stuck in this low seam. This is not to say that there will be the same level of horror right now, but in this less heated conflict that continues year after year.

Do you think oligarchs really have an effect on him? Do you think their approval is effective?

It is like a medicine for a certain kind of disease. The medication may have more side effects depending on when you administer the medication. So if we had allowed the oligarchs to pre-attack and we would have done so with our allies at gunpoint, it would have had far more effect on his actions than it does now.

This does not mean that we should not do it now, but he bet that there will be no serious sanctions because he has done a lot of terrible things in the last 20 years and no serious sanctions have been imposed before.

But does Mr. Putin care about what the oligarchs think?

Him? No.

But it is very important that we approve of all oligarchs for reasons other than the expectation that oligarchs are going to oust him. The oligarchs have kept his money. So when you look at an alligator worth 20 20 billion, 10 10 billion of that belongs to Putin. He cannot keep any money in his own name.

So, he has to give it to someone who actually has the financial means to work – to be the holder of this fund. When we say we want to approve of Putin, the only effective way to do that is to approve of the oligarchy. And the reason is not to persuade him to change his mind or to oust the oligarchs – it is to prevent him from using the money to wage war in the future.

Isn’t it true that these oligarchs call him “you have to cut it”?

The oligarchs could not do that. Any oligarch who did this would be immediately arrested, impoverished and killed.

What do you think American companies should do? What do you think of those who think that once they are gone they will never come back?

First, doing business in Russia after the invasion was equivalent to doing business in Nazi Germany, when Hitler began persecuting Jews. It’s the same thing.

Every business has a moral obligation to get out of Russia, whatever the cost. I don’t think anyone should be worried about returning because everyone will be welcome in the post-Putin era. And under Putin, I don’t think anyone would want to go back.

What about China? What effect does it have at this point?

An empty path in this whole thing is China, isn’t it? China has made it very clear that it is not going to join the rest of the world in challenging or punishing Putin for what he is doing. I think China needs to be careful.

Why? Does China still have no leverage over the West?

Well, the answer is that the United States is probably less likely to impose sanctions on China before consumers themselves approve of China.

So, do you think consumers will take steps to punish China for supporting Russia?

I can easily imagine a movement where every American consumer looks at the label. At the end of the day, consumers, whether organized by the government or not, have as much power as the government has – or more.

Do you think Mr. Putin still has people following him?

The way Russia works is that I don’t think it is spending too much time on me, but it did order its government 10 years ago to follow Bill Browder in all possible ways. Until the order is revoked, there are some people whose job it is to go after me, no matter what happens in the world. And they keep following me.

What do you think? Will sanctions against the Oligarchs force Putin to end the war? Let us know: dealbook@nytimes.com.

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