New Yorkers have been tweeting, instagraming and posting countless photos of a gleaming blue megayacht docked off midtown Manhattan. It's called "Serene." At a staggering 436-feet, with five levels, several swimming pools, two helicopter pads and soaring chrome exhaust pipes at the top, it nearly outshines the Intrepid Museum next door. (Its best amenities are inside: the "underwater viewing room," an indoor climbing wall, children's playroom and cabins for 24 guests and 52 crew, according to the yacht builder.) Anyone doing a quick Google search learns that the owner of Serene is Yuri Scheffler, the vodka-and-spirits magnate behind the Stolichnaya brand. And with the turmoil in Ukraine and Russia , many have also speculated that Serene's sudden presence is a sign of the worried oligarchs-the Putin-connected, Russian super rich who now face a financial backlash from the West for Russia's actions. (Read more: Putin on the Ritz? Russian said to have billions ) But they would be wrong. Scheffler is no Putin oligarch. And he has a surprising perspective on Ukraine.
In an email interview, Scheffler said he is in New York on business-hence the boat.
Although Scheffler's company, SPI Group, started in Russia, it's now based in Luxembourg. Scheffler is now a British citizen who spends much of his time abroad and hasn't been to Russia in 12 years. (Read more: Every oligarch for himself: Crazy days in Ukraine ) Scheffler has publicly battled President Vladimir Putin for years as the Russian government tried to seize the company and "renationalize" its assets. The government even issued a warrant for Scheffler's arrest in 2003 after he refused to hand over the company. So when asked about his views on Ukraine, Scheffler was highly critical of Russia's government.
"If Russia were a democratic country as the USA, with a proper legal system, and Crimea had asked it for help to defend itself from a hostile neighbor, then this would be OK," he wrote in the email. "In the current situation, this is terrible when a country captures a neighbor's territory. I feel sorry for Crimean people ... there are no laws in Russia. There is only one law in Russia, and it's called 'Putin.' Only one justice, called 'Putin'.'' (Read more: My other Lamborghini is a yacht ) For Scheffler and his boat, the U.S.-and its rule of law-have truly been a safe harbor. Especially now.
-CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.
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