Vladimir Potanin, one of the sanctioned Russian businessmen, could be reportedly the biggest obstacle to a potential $60bn merger between Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) and Rusal.

In an interview with Russian media, the businessman said a tie-up could bolster the two Russian firms’ defences against any Western sanctions imposed on them, while adding that he will not resign as CEO of Nornickel.

The merger will also create a national champion, said Potanin, who has a stake of 36% in Nornickel. Rusal has a stake of 26% in Nornickel.

However, a merger will not take place while Potanin continues as CEO and a major shareholder in Nornickel, reported Reuters, citing two sources having direct knowledge of the development.

One of the sources, commenting on Potanin, has been quoted by the publication, as saying: “Until he bites the bullet, steps down as CEO and sells down his stake to become a minority shareholder, no deal is possible.

“Even if the companies are not under international sanctions, there will be a de facto global international finance ban on them as a result of the UK sanctions on Potanin.”

The publication reported that the Interros Group, which handles the assets of Potanin as well as EN+ Group, the majority shareholder of Rusal, did not comment on the development. Rusal did not give any response to the agency’s request for comment.

A merger between Nornickel and Rusal is expected to result in a global base metals major with $30bn of combined revenue. The palladium and nickel produced by Nornickel make up 40% and 7% of global production of the two metals, respectively.

Rusal had last year contributed 6% of global primary aluminium supplies, reported the publication.