Sanctioned Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko calls for peace in Ukraine

Businessman recently had a $581m superyacht seized by Italian police amid alleged links to Putin

Tycoon Andrey Melnichenko has called for peace between Russia and Ukraine. Reuters

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A Russian billionaire who had a superyacht worth €530 million ($581m) seized by Italian police has said the war in Ukraine is tragic and that peace is “urgently” needed.

Andrey Melnichenko, who made his fortune in coal energy and fertiliser production, has become the latest high-profile billionaire to ask for attacks to stop.

Several of Russia’s richest businessmen have publicly called for peace since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24, including Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven and Oleg Deripaska.

The US and its European allies have imposed sanctions on several Russian businessmen, frozen state assets and cut off much of the Russian corporate sector from the global economy to push Mr Putin to change course.

“The events in Ukraine are truly tragic. We urgently need peace,” Melnichenko, 50, told Reuters.

“One of the victims of this crisis will be agriculture and food,” he said.

Italian police took Melnichenko’s yacht, Sailing Yacht A, at the port of Trieste on Friday evening as part of seizures of oligarch wealth to pressure Mr Putin.

The vessel is 143 metres high, with an interior designed by Philippe Starck, and was built by Nobiskrug in Germany.

Melnichenko founded EuroChem, one of Russia’s biggest fertiliser producers, which moved to Zug, Switzerland, in 2015, and Suek, the country’s top coal producer.

The 142 metre sail-assisted motor yacht 'Sailing Yacht A' owned by Russian tycoon Andrey Melnichenko is seen in front of Monaco harbour. Reuters.

The invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands, displaced about five million people and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the US, the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.

Melnichenko was born in Belarus and his mother is Ukrainian. He was 19 when the Soviet Union collapsed, and started trading foreign currency while studying physics at Moscow State University.

He founded MDM Bank but in the 1990s was still too minor to take part in the privatisations under President Boris Yeltsin which handed the choicest assets of a former superpower to a group of businessmen who would become known as the oligarchs owing to their political and economic clout.

Melnichenko began buying up often distressed coal and fertiliser assets. His fortune in 2021 was estimated by Forbes to be $18 billion, making him Russia’s eighth-richest man.

On Wednesday, the EU imposed sanctions on Melnichenko in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It said his attendance at a Kremlin meeting with Putin and 36 businessmen organised by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs showed he was “one of the leading businesspersons involved in economic sectors”.

Melnichenko “has no relation to the tragic events in Ukraine. He has no political affiliations,” his spokesman said.

“To draw a parallel between attending a meeting through membership in a business council, just as dozens of business people from both Russia and Europe have done in the past, and undermining or threatening a country is absurd and nonsensical,” the spokesman said.

Melnichenko would dispute the sanctions, he said.

On March 9, Melnichenko resigned as member of the board and non-executive director in both EuroChem and Suek, and withdrew as their beneficiary, the spokesman said.

Updated: March 14, 2022, 6:42 PM