By Mick Krever, CNN
Western sanctions on Russia will not hurt, because “the Western side” is “a bit in love with certain spheres of the Russian dirty money,” Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“And secondly,” he said, “I don't think any restrictions of travel for any members of the parliament or Russian Federation, are really anything of substance.”
Nonetheless, he admitted that if a “Cold War economic sphere” set in, punitive measures could have an effect.
“Russia will have to pay a price with prices going up because we're too dependent on imports and exports,” he said.
Europe and the United States imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 28 Russian and Ukrainian officials on Monday over their involvement in a Crimean referendum to join Russia, a vote Western officials called illegal.
Lebedev, a former KGB agent turned businessman and Kremlin-critic, was not on the sanctions list. He now runs four British newspapers, including The Independent and the Evening Standard.
Lebedev denied that he is an “oligarch,” saying he is just “a humble newspaper proprietor.”
He proposed a “Crimean conference” among the great powers to try to solve the crisis, often evading Amanpour’s questions to bring the conversation back to this topic.
“It is much easier to have tomorrow a Crimean conference to deal with the issue, which is much less difficult than the [conference in] February of 1945, when Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin dealt with a much worse problems in Europe – and they did it.”
On Monday, the Russian foreign ministry seemed to propose just such a “support group” for Ukraine, but with terms, Reuters reported, that the West and Ukraine are “unlikely to welcome.”
At the end of the interview, Lebedev once again tried to bring the conversation back to the idea of a peace conference.
“They could do it – it's an easy task,” he said. “That’s why I am deviating from your questions, I am sorry.”
“You deviated and you did it heroically,” Amanpour responded. “That was really a world-class deviation, Mr. Lebedev.”