One of Russia’s richest tycoons called on the authorities on Monday to tolerate rather than punish hundreds of thousands of workers who have fled abroad due to Moscow’s war in Ukraine, arguing that the country needs their brain power.

“People who work for our economy from abroad – remotely or otherwise – should not be punished,” billionaire metals executive Vladimir Potanin told the online RBC news portal, calling for an end to talk of punitive measures against them, something he called “demagoguery”.

He said Moscow had to be tolerant even if remote workers held views which Russian patriots disliked, a reference to the fact that many of those who left – including IT specialists – did so to avoid being drafted into the army or because they disagreed with what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24 last year.