Prime Minister Says Busting Billionaires Was Not a Goal

BloombergPutin gesturing in an interview on Sunday on the outskirts of Novgorod.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that subduing billionaires has never been his goal as long as their fortunes are earned legally and they contribute to the social good of the country.

"For some reason, there's an opinion that I'm a destroyer of billionaires," he said. "I never had it as a goal. ... If a person within the law acquires considerable property, financial resources, God give him good health."

Putin vowed while campaigning for the presidency in 2000 that "oligarchs will cease to exist as a class" under his leadership. Russia later sentenced Mikhail Khodorkovsky to eight years in a Siberian penal colony for fraud and tax evasion and confiscated his oil firm, Yukos, which was sold in pieces to recover more than $30 billion in back taxes.

The kind of billionaires Putin said he's ready to support include Vyacheslav Kantor of fertilizer maker Acron. Putin visited an Acron facility near Novgorod, on the day of the interview, which was held in an Acron conference room.

"The owners of this enterprise not only keep jobs in quite difficult conditions, they also develop the social sphere," Putin said, adding that he was impressed that of the factory's 5,000 staff, 3,000 were involved in sports programs that Acron sponsored.

"Owners of the enterprise are not poor people," Putin said. "If those who deal with real production also have a feeling of social responsibility, we will support such people."

In his meeting with Putin, Kantor agreed to continue supplying Russian farmers with fertilizers at "prices coordinated with the Agriculture Ministry."

"We, as members of a civil society, perfectly understand our responsibility before Russian agriculture," Kantor said, according to remarks on the Kremlin's web site. "For us, it is not a burden, not some kind of order to jump to."