Just end it all, Russian oligarch tells eurocrats

MOSCOW Tue Sep 13, 2011 7:04pm BST

Interros Founder and Owner Vladimir Potanin attends the Reuters Russia Investment Summit in Moscow September 13, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Interros Founder and Owner Vladimir Potanin attends the Reuters Russia Investment Summit in Moscow September 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - European leaders grappling with the euro zone debt crisis have an unsolvable problem that will lead to economic decline and a loss of manufacturing power to rivals, one of Russia's most powerful businessmen said on Tuesday.

"If I was a politician in Europe, I would commit suicide," said Vladimir Potanin, who owns a 30-percent stake in Norilsk Nickel (GMKN.MM), the world's largest nickel and palladium producer.

"There is really such a big difference between the interests of different countries, I simply do not understand how you can match the interests of Germany and Greece," said Potanin, who is ranked by Forbes as Russia's fourth richest man with a fortune of $17.8 billion.

Potanin is no stranger to crisis management: he had to defend his business in the chaos following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and he is engaged in a battle for control of his metal industry assets with a fellow oligarch - Oleg Deripaska.

But he said the European Union had expanded too fast and had no mechanism to balance the interests of different members in the euro zone.

"The euro zone has two very bad options," he said at the Reuters Russia Investment Summit held at the Reuters office in Moscow.

"Either exclude a country from this zone, which would be awful politically as far as I understand, or stay where they are and cut expenditure. But not everyone is ready to cut expenditure."

Potanin said the global shift of manufacturing to emerging markets was draining the wealth of many European countries which had sought to support artificially high living standards with borrowing.

So apart from suicide, what would Potanin's advice be to European policymakers?

"In business it is much clearer: you have a unit that doesn't perform, you give the management of the unit time to change," he said.

"But what happens if the unit does not begin to perform? You close it. But you cannot simply close a country like Greece."

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge. Editing by Jane Merriman)