The Russian Who Votes with His Feet | Multimillionaire Chichvarkin on Russia, Ukraine and Bendukidze

The Russian Who Votes with His Feet | Multimillionaire Chichvarkin on Russia, Ukraine and Bendukidze

Evgeny Chichvarkin is the founder of the largest Russian mobile phone retailer Euroset, which made him the richest man under thirty-five in his country, with an approximate fortune of $1.6 billion. Despite his wealth and country of origin, you cannot find Chichvarkin on the list of Putin’s sanctioned billionaires, because he left the country, more specifically the regime, well before February 24th, 2022, or even February/March of 2014. It was in 2008 that the industry leader was forced to sell his company for only $400 million and immediately leave his native Russia lying face down in the back of a car. It did not take him long to get his head above water in London, where in 2012, he set up Hedonism Wines, ‘the world’s best wineshop’ and later in 2018, he launched the Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant Hide. Nowadays, Chichvarkin plays polo with princes, is a vocal critic of Putin, a wanted man in Russia, and after February 24th, an active financial supporter of the Ukrainians, to whom he sends truckloads of medical and protective equipment. Chichvarkin drove the first load to Poland himself.

“Both Russia and Ukraine are very close to me. If measured by mental closeness, then the order would be Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia. They are all close to my heart,” Chichvarkin tells Forbes Georgia, adding if any other country other than Russia would have invaded Ukraine, he would be as actively involved in humanitarian assistance as he is now.

In his interview with Forbes Georgia, Evgeny Chichvarkin talked about Putin, the involvement of the West in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the potential for World War III and the well-known Georgian Kakha Bendukidze.

Many people, and you are among them, said that they did not expect that Putin would start a war against Ukraine. How did it happen that so many people, including Evgeny Chichvarkin, who always calls a spade a spade and who also stated that it was Russia who started the war in Georgia in 2008, were wrong about Putin?

It is difficult to be up to speed with the logic of a person suffering from schizophrenia. Yes, everyone was mistaken, and we could not see the level of his aggression and his objective because he, as a real secret-service agent, misled everyone. His goal was simply to capture territory even at the cost of human lives.

Recently, a Turkish official stated that some NATO states want the war in Ukraine to continue. Considering your position towards economic sanctions, you are a vocal supporter of closing the skies rather than seizing oligarchs’ yachts, would you agree with that statement and what is your explanation of the West’s current position, why are they not in a rush to stop the war?

The West is in no hurry to stop this war, because they are very bureaucratic, some of them are afraid of Putin, others depend on Putin’s oil and gas, there are a lot of different factors here and each country has its own reason.

I would quote the businessperson and writer Alfred Kokh who also used to work for the Russian government, and he said that Putin is a frog that should be boiled slowly. His premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water that is then brought to boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. I guess it is the most precise strategy. The West will supply sufficient weapons to Ukraine and train them so that they can retake the occupied territories. However, I think that many Western politicians are extremely afraid that if Ukraine is very well armed and encouraged, it may start fighting for the Crimea. Because in the mind of Putin and in the minds of many Russians, the Crimea is sacred, and this will definitely escalate the war for a significant period of time.

Back in 2014 or 2015, I remember you mentioning how one sanctioned businessperson ordered wine at Hedonism, so it was clear that he or she had traveled freely to the UK and continued living a normal life. Can we say that it will be like this again or is avoiding the current sanctions hard for the Russian business community?

Of course, an oligarch’s housekeeper can come to us and buy Romanée-Conti with her Revolut, and we will never know where this bottle goes. The only thing we can do is just guess who will drink it. However, I would say that avoiding sanctions is more difficult now.

What we are seeing right now is that a new iron curtain is falling across Europe, autocratic rule is growing into totalitarianism in Russia, and a minority of Russians with a different vision are leaving their homeland. Do you not think that the West is making a mistake and after a couple of decades we will get a much more dangerous country?

If the West continues to pay for Russian gas and oil, it can grow into an even bigger monster, and if it does not pay, and an embargo is introduced, it won’t, because Russia is a northern country and will be exclusively occupied with the task of feeding itself.

Has World War III begun?

It seems to me that World War III has unfortunately started. The meeting of forty ministers of defense at Ramstein Air Base is a clear sign that all these countries are already participating in this war in one way or another. There are quite a few unresolved and pending territorial issues, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, of course Donbass and the Crimea, I would also not disregard Korea divided into North and South. So, I think that the fall of the Putin regime may contribute to the intensification of these conflicts.

Did the recent events reduce the time it would take you to go back to your homeland, or on the contrary, has it prolonged it even further?

It seems to me that these events are speeding up my return to my homeland, because time is passing, and if prior to that the Putin regime could comfortably exist for another twenty years, gradually sinking into the quagmire of authoritarianism, now the stakes have been raised, and Putin has no ace of trumps in his pocket, while the West has a couple dozen decks.

As far as I know, you do not attend funerals for personal reasons. However, there was one case when you decided to break this habit and attended Kakha Bendukidze’s {Georgian statesman, businessman and philanthropist, regarded as the man who rebuilt Georgia} funeral. Why?

I respect Bendukidze very much, because not only is he an outstanding Georgian, but also an outstanding world politician, a world-class figure. There are several people like him, such as Sheikh Mohammed, Lee Kuan Yew, Thatcher, Reagan, Douglas and so on. Unfortunately, he and his achievements were not sufficiently appreciated both in Georgia and in the post-Soviet space.

One can see from your Instagram page that you are aware of Georgian political society and are closely following the developments of our country. Putting aside any political views, how is Georgia positioning itself right now?

Since we are well aware that Bidzina Ivanishvili is essentially the Kremlin’s project and former president Mikheil Saakashvili is in prison, it is clear that Georgia could be more active in its assistance to Ukraine, as it was under Saakashvili. The movement of Georgia towards freedom, towards liberalism, even libertarianism, which came after the Rose Revolution, is remembered by many. People improved their well-being and improved their mentality during that time. I really hope that this sentiment will return to Georgia, when the people who have been formed under Bendukidze and Saakashvili will become politically mature.

How well do you know Bidzina Ivanishvili?

I knew Ivanishvili as a tough banker in the late nineties, but I don’t know him personally.

Which Georgian wines are offered at Hedonism?

We had about twenty of them and there could be a lot more if there was not the problem of discipline and a lack of organization among Georgian winemakers. From memory there is Marani 2007, which was one of the most outstanding wines that I have ever tried, there is also Chateau Mere. Having said that, supplying wines from Georgia has proved to be difficult due to disciplinary and logistical issues.



The Interview in Georgian was originally published in August 2022