Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman's LetterOne Group has named former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as an adviser to its board.
Fridman, the billionaire chairman of Russia's Alfa Group, said in a statement that Bildt's appointment is part of the company's efforts to build "a team of world-class advisers to contribute to our thinking and growth as an international business," the Reuters news agency reported on May 14.
With a fortune that Forbes magazine estimates at $15.8 billion, Fridman has largely refrained from engaging in politics during Putin's 15 years in power. But, in appointing Bildt, he has enlisted the services of a fierce Putin opponent and ally of Kyiv in its war with Russian-backed separatists.
Before stepping down as Sweden's top diplomat late last year, Bildt repeatedly accused Russia of fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which the United Nations says has killed more than 6,100 civilians and combatants since April 2014.
Kyiv and NATO say there is incontrovertible evidence of direct Russian military involvement in the conflict, allegations the Kremlin denies.
Bildt also accused Russia of "conducting a propaganda war" during the conflict, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced on May 13 that he had appointed the former Swedish diplomat to an advisory council to carry out reforms and bolster worldwide support for Kyiv.
Bildt's appointment as an adviser to LetterOne's board follows an order by the British government last month that it sell its gas fields in the British North Sea within six months.
British officials cited concerns that potential sanctions against Russia or the company could impact the operation of the fields.
Fridman had threatened to fight the British government in the courts over the issue, but LetterOne said last week that it is now looking to sell the assets.
The United States and the EU have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russian companies and wealthy individuals in Putin's inner circle. Fridman is not seen as close to Putin, and neither he nor his companies have been slapped with Western sanctions.
Bildt was among the most vocal Western officials who publicly pushed for sanctions against Russian officials, businesspeople, and companies in response to the Kremlin's interference in Ukraine, including its annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
Bildt -- who also served as Sweden's prime minister from 1991 to 1994 -- said in a statement provided by LetterOne to the independent Russian news outlet RBK that he is "pleased" to be joining the company during an "interesting" time for the world economy.
Fridman has been actively seeking to maintain and cultivate ties in the West amid the fallout of the Ukraine crisis.
This week, he attended the opening of an exhibit in New York City featuring art from the private collection of his longtime business partner, LetterOne board member Pyotr Aven, BuzzFeed reported.
He was quoted by BuzzFeed as saying that Western investors are frightened when it comes to Russia and that the exhibit is a "way to keep communication open."
With reporting by Reuters, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, and rbc.ru