Branson tells CNN that he and the leaders of 15 major companies including Unilever, PayPal, and eBay, want a diplomatic solution and to avoid a new Cold War scenario:
I just think it’s extremely sad to see in my lifetime the Berlin Wall coming down, and then a number of years later, all that hope seemingly disappearing. And I have a lot of Russian friends, a lot of Ukrainian friends, a lot of business leaders from both countries. And I’ve spoken with them, and they’re equally sad. And we felt it was important to speak out to beg our politicians to — through diplomacy to resolve this particular issue. And then, as quickly as possible, to try to get back to the normality that existed between Russia and Europe and the rest of the world after the Berlin Wall came down.
On whether the entrepreneurs will seek a meeting with Putin:
The first important thing that’s happening is that the president of Ukraine is meeting with President Putin next week, and let’s hope that something positive comes out of that. If that fails, then the group of people that we’ve put together, the group of Russian business leaders would be delighted to meet up with President Putin and see whether a compromise can be reached. The group of Ukrainian business leaders that we have onboard would be delighted to sit with the Ukrainian president. And I think we could use our negotiating skills, our entrepreneurial skills to reach a compromise.
On whether Putin is open to diplomacy:
I don’t know. I think that we would be irresponsible if we didn’t give it a try. And I think that he feels that when he got reelected, the West didn’t welcome him into office, that he was somewhat ostracized by the West. And therefore, he’s going it alone somewhat. And I think that whatever caused him to feel that, it’s up to the West, I think, to make it clear that we want Russia to be — ultimately, that we want Russia to be part of Europe, we want to be able to trust each other completely. And that’s what we’ve all got to try to work towards and try to put the last year firmly behind us and try to find a positive way forward.