Russia’s Vladimir Putin lashed out on Tuesday at a former ally who bailed on the country last year in apparent protest at the war against Ukraine, mocking him for “hiding” and “going underground” in Israel.
Putin’s comments, filmed at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, marked his first public reaction to the departure of Anatoly Chubais, who resigned as climate envoy and adviser to the Russian president shortly after the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion last year. He was purported to be the highest-ranking member of the government to ditch the country over the war.
According to Putin, who cited “some photograph from the internet,” his former adviser “is no longer Anatoly Borisovich Chubais, but some Moisha Israelievich.”
“Why is he doing this?” Putin said, according to footage of his remarks. “He fled.”
He went on to claim he had no idea why Chubais felt the need to abruptly quit and move abroad—and then issued what certainly sounded like a thinly veiled threat for the former Rosnano chief.
“Maybe [Chubais’ departure] is due to the fact that complex processes are underway in the structure that he headed for many years [Rusnano], and there is a big hole there, a huge financial hole,” Putin said, claiming Chubais likely feared “criminal proceedings” against him.
Maybe this, Putin said, is why Chubais “went underground” in Israel.
Sources close to Chubais told the independent Mozhem Obyasnit news outlet that he had not changed his name and had no plans to do so. “It’s striking how this disinformation that has circulated exclusively on [far-right] channels made it to the president of the Russian Federation,” one unnamed source said.
Chubais headed Rusnano, the state nanotechnology firm, until December 2020, when he began serving as a special envoy for the Russian leader for relations with international organizations. In March 2022, he abruptly resigned and left the country after reportedly saying privately that he couldn’t stomach Russia’s war against Ukraine. Shortly afterward, he fell ill in Italy, sparking fears he’d potentially been poisoned—but he was quoted telling a Russian journalist he’d actually been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Putin also appeared to troll another high-profile defector at the forum, wishing Russian billionaire Arkady Volozh a “good life” in Israel after the Yandex co-founder publicly condemned Moscow’s “barbaric” war against Ukraine before pleading with authorities in the European Union to lift sanctions against him.
Claiming Volozh had been “forced to make certain statements” in order to live overseas, Putin insisted “it doesn’t hurt us.” But he then went on to demonstrate just the opposite, complaining that “successful” Russians should have a “sense of conscience” towards the country that “gave everything” to them.
“Does he have the right to express his position? Of course! But there are many nuances here: You can take the position of our geopolitical opponents and play along with them, causing damage to your country, or you can behave differently. A person chooses for himself,” he said.
Of the 160+ famous cultural figures who left the country over the war, he claimed their departure was a plus for Moscow, since they would only “nag” the rest of the country with their “nontraditional values” anyway.