Russian oligarchs say Putin tricked them into supporting his war in Ukraine, per The New York Times.
When Putin announced the invasion, they were gathered before cameras "to tar everyone there," The Times reported.
In the weeks that followed, Russian businessmen were hit with heavy sanctions by Western countries.
As the cracks in Russia's war on Ukraine deepen, Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the West are now saying Russian President Vladimir Putin tricked them into appearing to support his invasion of Ukraine, according to an extensive investigation published Saturday by The New York Times.
Many of Putin's top advisors didn't know the full extent of his plans to invade Ukraine on February 24 until they were already underway, according to The Times. Senior aides at the Kremlin were trying to read his body language, telling some that Putin had "this warlike twinkle in his eyes," the paper reported.
"If everyone around you is telling you for 22 years that you are a super-genius, then you will start to believe that this is who you are," Oleg Tinkov, a former Russian banking mogul who turned on Putin this year, told The Times. "Russian businesspeople, Russian officials, the Russian people — they saw a czar in him. He just went nuts."
But as the "special military operation" has dragged on, some Russian oligarchs have expressed doubt and frustration after they were heavily sanctioned by Western nations as a result of their allyship with Putin, the Times reported.
Andrey Melnichenko, a coal and fertilizer billionaire, woke up on February 24 to "madness" in Ukraine, but he and other businessmen already had a meeting scheduled with Putin for that day, per The Times. He joined rows of other business moguls who were equally surprised by Putin's invasion. When Putin finally entered the room, he told those assembled and the cameras set up behind them that he didn't have a choice about invading, per the outlet.
Melnichenko told The Times that he felt the entire situation was "irrational" and he felt "shock," but the damage was already done. Another business mogul at the meeting, who remained anonymous, told the paper that they had all been gathered before the cameras in an unknowing show of support for Putin's decision to invade – even if they disagreed with it.
The goal of the stunt, the anonymous businessman told The Times, was "specifically to tar everyone there" and "to get everyone sanctioned."
Putin's plan to force his followers to have some skin in the game worked. The Times reported that dozens of business tycoons, including Melnichenko and the anonymous businessman, were hit with heavy sanctions from western nations. In the weeks and months that followed, Russian oligarchs had their assets frozen and were banned from traveling to some countries as the Ruble fell into freefall.
Some of Russia's wealthiest have since pleaded with the West, offering Ukrainian money in exchange for being excluded from the heavy sanctions, Business Insider previously reported.
But Putin's war has increasingly become a point of pride for the Russian president, who seems to hope it will cement his glory in Russian history.
"What he thinks about obsessively, and quite possibly falsely," has shaped "the biography of the whole world," Konstantin Remchukov, a newspaper editor from Moscow, told the Times of Putin's fixation with Ukraine.
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