Billionaire Arkady Rotenberg discusses Putin friendship & Western sanctions fight in rare interview
Russia can’t rely on the West or China if it wants to become a world-leading economy, construction tycoon Arkady Rotenberg – often described as one of Vladimir Putin’s closest confidantes – told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze.
“In the past, we could afford to be idle and put things off or not do them at all, but now we need to do them – and fast. If we start falling behind, if we slow down, we’ll fall behind thoroughly and completely, so we have to be proactive all the time,” he said during a 30-minute interview on SophieCo. “Of course, it would be easier without sanctions, no question about it.”
“We’ve pulled through before, even though no one in the West thought we would actually do it,” Rotenberg said, in reference to Russia’s ability to stay competitive in the arms industry.
Rotenberg, 67, whose net worth is estimated at $2.6 billion by Forbes, was among the first wave of officials targeted by US and EU sanctions after Crimea rejoined Russia in 2014, due to his links to Vladimir Putin. The two men have known each other since they were children at the same judo club in what was then Leningrad.
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Rotenberg spent years waging a so-far-futile international legal battle against the travel and business restrictions – which he describes as groundless and “unjust” but now views them as a blessing in disguise, saying that Russia “moving away from a raw-exports role” in the world economy.
“Russians are smart enough, I think. We’ve never been lacking in mathematicians, software engineers, physicists or anyone else for that matter, so we have what it takes to develop,” he said, but added that the population’s “mentality” has prevented the country from achieving its potential. He called for something to inspire and unify people.
As an example of what can be collectively achieved, Rotenberg cites the project he is overseeing, the 18km Kerch Strait Bridge between mainland Russia and Crimea, the construction of which he likens to “birthing a baby” that has given him years of sleepless nights.
Rotenberg also admitted that he has given thought to what awaits both Russia and himself after Putin’s term in office runs out in five years, though he is sure that at least one thing will not change – the relationship between the two men.
“We’ve been friends, and we will remain friends no matter what. Our friendship has stood the test of time – over 50 years.”
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