Gennady Timchenko, long-time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and sanctioned by the United States, came out this week to give a rare interview. The lengthy (Itar-Tass divided it into 7 pages, for some inexplicable reason) question and answer session was mostly filled with questions that were probably pre-approved.
The interview starts with an anecdote about Timchenko’s dog, a Labrador who he claims was a gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was meant to convey Timchenko’s close, personal relationship with Putin. [One more interesting fact about Timchenko’s dog: Romy’s mother, Koni, was a gift to Putin from Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu.]
Timchenko then defends his dual citizenship, saying it was a decision based on necessity:
“I have never concealed the dual citizenship. You remember the 90s: a second passport was needed to move freely around the world…”
Like his friend, Vladimir Putin, Timchenko also professes to not use a computer. If he needs something he has employees to do it for him. “But I don’t read the news on the internet at night, and I sleep quite peacefully.”
On his relationship with Putin, Timchenko notes:
“Firstly, we do not see each other as often as many people think. Secondly, I never reach into areas which I do not understand. I am not a politician, and do not believe it is possible to speak on such questions.”
“[We have known one another] more than twenty years. But when asked about our friendship, I always tell them to ask Vladimir Vladimirovich. If I call myself his friend, it won’t look right.”
Timchenko also mentions the other ways he and Putin are connected. He brings up the judo club “Yavara-Neva” he co-founded with the Rotenberg brothers.
He then declares:
“In addition to Judo, Vladimir Vladimirovich and I also share other common interests in sports: hockey, skiing. And another subject – the Russian Geographical Society, of which I am a co-trustee.”
Timchenko is quite vocal on the subject of the sanctions against him, again bemoaning the fact that his wife’s surgery could not be paid for ‘although sanctions do not apply to family members’.
The European Union has not sanctioned Timchenko so far, but even so the sanctions are having an impact on his activities in Europe. He also complains about the fact that his Gulfstream jet has been downed due to the US sanctions against him. Timchenko complains:
“Even large private European banks are hostage to the global financial system, which is controlled by the United States. If desired, they can do what they want and with whom they want.
“If you call a spade a spade, it is blatant blackmail. From the State Department without the slightest hesitation call directly to top managers of European banks and dictate which of the Russians to block the bill. Many prefer not to risk performing urgent “advice” overseas partners…”
But even so, Timchenko defends Putin’s position on Ukraine, repeating:
“Russia is a sovereign state protecting its national interests.”
He also says:
“It is naïve to think we will back down.”
Finally, Timchenko also pulled out the Fortress Russia trope, saying:
“Sanctions are not only a problem but also an incentive. You cannot depend so much on the outside world. Whether it’s defense, finance, food security… We need to develop our own.”
Meanwhile, a Vedomosti editorial pointed out that while Timchenko voiced his loyalty to ‘the state’ quite ardently, he also suggested several times in the course of his interview that he expected something in return. That something is, of course, money. Timchenko made it very clear that he was unhappy with the budgets for the 2018 World Cup stadiums his company, Stroitransgaz, is expected to build. Stroitransgaz has been complaining about budget constraints for a several months, saying “that the costs set by the government are too low and need to be increased by a third” [to $575 million]. Timchenko generously dropped the sum he was asking for to $475 million, but complained, “There is no way that we can fit into the proposed cost sheet, and Stroitransgaz does not work at a loss.”
Whatever the goal of the interview, it was undoubtedly not something Timchenko decided to do himself. Was he attempting to prove his loyalty? Or did he have some other objective, as Vedomosti suggested?