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Tags: Oligarch Evolution
Fridman’s Maneuvers Symbolize Oligarch Evolution.
Mikhail Fridman once seemed omnipotent as one of the elite group of Russian businessmen who amassed vast fortunes and huge political influence under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
More than a decade after Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin and started reining in the oligarchs, Fridman is on the defensive as a new generation of businessmen snatch up assets and the Kremlin reasserts control over the economy.
His call for a divorce from BP, his partner in Russia’s No. 3 oil firm TNK-BP, and the $5 billion sale of his stake in mobile firm MegaFon are widely seen as evidence that he is following other oligarchs by cutting his exposure in Russia.
“There’s a new generation of oligarchs — their horizon is longer — and then there’s the earlier generation that are tired or see the writing on the wall,” said one senior source in the Moscow business community. “I don’t think that the Fridmans of this world will be living in Russia in 10 years.”
Fridman, 48, usually avoids publicity but rebutted suggestions that he is ready to throw in the towel in a rare newspaper interview after he quit last week as chief executive of TNK-BP.
“Why do I need cash? So I can sit by the seaside or go for a sail?” he told Kommersant daily. “I’ve got nothing against sailing — it’s an excellent activity — it’s just not for me.”
BP’s subsequent announcement that it may sell its stake in the 50-50 joint venture triggers a lengthy sale procedure that gives a Fridman-led quartet of billionaire shareholders an initial chance to offer to buy the British oil major’s stake.
But with ex-Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin — last month named chief executive of state oil major Rosneft — waiting in the wings as a potential buyer, industry watchers do not rule out an exit by the oligarchs, who own their stake through the AAR group.
A gradual withdrawal by BP from TNK-BP was one option, Fridman said in the Kommersant interview, while a sale by AAR that included partial payment in BP stock was another.