Vladimir Yakunin, considered until recently one of the most influential people of Russia, spoke about his relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Having been labeled as a “confidant” of Vladimir Putin by Washington and thus falling under US sanctions, Vladimir Yakunin was long seen as one of the most powerful and wealthy people in Russia. However, last summer he resigned from his post as President of Russian Railways (1.2 million workers), which he held for ten years. Did he fall out of grace with the man in the Kremlin? Since the incident, speculation has not ceased. “Le Temps” met with Vladimir Yakunin in Geneva, where he took part in celebrations dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the construction of a Russian church.
Le Temps. “You headed one of the largest companies in the world. Do you find yourself now lacking such a responsibility?”
Vladimir Yakunin. “It was a significant part of my life, and it will remain as such, but everything has an end. The decision was made a long time ago, even if the current crisis can be blamed for accelerating the process. It did not happen overnight, but was carefully planned.”
“Some connect your exit to the fact that one of your sons requested British citizenship. This, as they say, must have been irritating to the Kremlin?”
“This is not true. My son has lived in London for 7 years; he is a grown man and has his own life and family. This isn’t a secret to anyone. We all live in the same society, and many Russians choose to live abroad. Regarding the decision of my son, a very authoritative person – someone from the Russian government – assured me that there is no problem with this when I informed him of my son’s decision. This in itself reminded me that many members of parliament, and even the government, have close ties beyond the borders of Russia. That is to say, this case is not exceptional.”
“You were then ‘gifted’ the post of senator over the Kaliningrad region, but you refused it. Why did you do this?”
“Look, I am aware that a senator is not allowed to head an international NGO. After all, my friends and I created a world forum called ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ to which I have devoted fifteen years of my life. It is considered an international NGO. I was faced with the question of how I could best contribute to the service of my country and my people. I decided that I could do so as part of this forum. I am very grateful to the president and to all interested parties for allowing me to make this choice and for accepting my decision.”
“Do you maintain good relations with President Putin?”
“I am a Russian citizen. In life, I’ve had different periods of time, both good and bad, and I’ve probably made some mistakes. But all my life I’ve served my country. This was noted and respectfully accepted by the president of my country. I would say that, up to the present time, I actually still have a good relationship with the president. He, in particular, agreed that my work in the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ represents the proper outlook.”
“In this regard, you are going to open a research institute on this issue in the coming weeks in Berlin. Are you taking part in the lobbying that has been deployed by the Kremlin in Europe?”
“Nobody is directing us, and I have not received a single penny, nor any instructions regarding the work of this forum or my foundation (The St. Andrew Foundation, one of whose offices is located in Geneva, Ed.). Every time, a temptation arises to portray us as the Kremlin’s agents of influence, but nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that I am Russian, and it is very important to me how I am perceived, understood and accepted in certain European countries. At the same time, it is also normal that the Kremlin is showing concern at the massive propaganda and negative speculations that are directed against Russia and the Russian people today. Therefore, it would be odd if he didn’t try to counteract them. But my country has its own agencies, diplomats, and international relations at its disposal. We have nothing to hide. On the other hand, there is no obstacle to the fact that, through its own initiatives, our Foundation can also do positive things for our country and our people.”
“How important is Switzerland to you in the future?”
“Think about Ioannis Kapodistrias (John Capo d’Istria), who defended the independence of Switzerland at the Congress of Vienna after he was the first Russian Ambassador to the Swiss Confederation… It is important to note how absurd the statements are that Russia is not part of Europe and has never played a positive role in it. Russia has always been a very influential state. Today we are here to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the construction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Geneva. This speaks to our idea that we are all one big family whose members have their inherent spats and arguments, but also have constant mutual influence on one another.”