[Marxism] East Ukraine's pro bono Jewish oligarchic officials

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 7 09:02:10 MDT 2014


NY Times, APRIL 7, 2014
Business Titans Too Rich to Bribe Seek to Ease Fears in East Ukraine
By ANDREW HIGGINS

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine — Two months ago, Hennadiy Korban, a millionaire 
businessman, fled to Israel to escape retribution for siding with 
opponents of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. After Mr. 
Yanukovych’s ouster, he flew home in triumph aboard a private plane to 
begin a new life — as a harried civil servant.

Mr. Korban, 44, now works 14 hours a day in a drab Soviet-era office 
block here for a meager salary that he does not bother to take. 
Business, he said, was more enjoyable and far less stressful than trying 
to keep Ukraine together.

But since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, and with tens of 
thousands of Russian troops now massed on Ukraine’s border, to the east 
of this sprawling industrial city, men like Mr. Korban have become part 
of a frantic, all-hands-on-deck struggle against President Vladimir V. 
Putin of Russia.

Unable to throw money at the many problems besieging Ukraine’s bitterly 
divided east, the fragile and nearly bankrupt government in Kiev, the 
capital, has instead thrown rich people into a drive to convince the 
country’s Russian-speaking regions that their future lies not with 
Russia, but with Ukraine.

Mr. Korban’s boss is Ihor Kolomoysky, who was recently appointed 
governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region by officials in Kiev. Mr. 
Kolomoysky, a billionaire involved in banking, oil, metals and the 
media, ranks as the second- or third-wealthiest man in Ukraine, 
depending on who is counting. He said he has not counted his fortune 
himself, noting that “a real rich person is someone who does not know 
how much he has.”

Another of Mr. Kolomoysky’s deputies is Boris Filatov, Mr. Korban’s 
business partner in luxury shopping malls and other ventures.

Sergei Taruta, a metals magnate worth billions of dollars, is now in 
charge of the neighboring eastern region of Donetsk. He is trying to 
reassert Ukrainian authority there after a short-lived pro-Russian 
putsch led by a self-declared “people’s governor” who is now in jail.

Mr. Taruta, in an interview late last month, dismissed the attempt to 
seize power as “absurd theater,” suggesting that the script had been 
written by Moscow and performed by Russians masquerading as locals. On 
Sunday, however, pro-Russia activists staged a repeat performance, again 
seizing the Donetsk regional administration building where Mr. Taruta 
has his office and waving Russian flags from its windows.

The naming of wealthy businessmen to positions of power marks a curious 
twist in the Ukrainian revolution, which was driven in a large part by 
public fury at the extensive wealth of a tiny group of plutocrats who 
prospered under Mr. Yanukovych and, with a few exceptions, stayed on the 
sidelines throughout three months of protests against him.

Mr. Kolomoysky, who was mostly outside the country during the protests, 
said he came up with the idea not as a way to entrench himself and other 
businessmen in power, but as an emergency response to the fears of 
Russian speakers in the east, terrified by a revolution they saw as 
dominated by Ukrainian nationalists from the west.

“This is a signal to society,” Mr. Kolomoysky said. “If oligarchs are in 
power, feel at ease and view their future as being in Ukraine, then 
ordinary people will feel even more that they are not under threat.” He 
conceded, however, that average people “might not respect oligarchs or 
like them.”

But after being bombarded with Russian claims that fascists had seized 
power, he said, people in the east were heartened to see a move into 
government by multimillionaires with no interest in extremist turmoil or 
a neo-Nazi revival, “particularly when they are of Jewish origin.”

Mr. Kolomoysky, a Russian-speaking citizen of both Israel and Ukraine, 
lived until recently in Switzerland, where his wife and son still live. 
Mr. Kolomoysky and his deputy, Mr. Korban, are both Jewish.

Mr. Filatov describes himself as “100 percent Russian without a drop of 
Ukrainian blood.” He, too, fled to Israel in late January.

“Aside for a few marginals, nobody here is going to throw any flowers at 
Russian tanks,” Mr. Filatov said. He recently persuaded more than 20 
local groups, including several pro-Russia outfits that had cheered 
Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, to sign a declaration in support of 
Ukraine’s territorial integrity and against Russian aggression.

Pavlo Khazan, a pro-democracy activist here who helped organize a series 
of rallies against Mr. Yanukovych, said many ordinary people distrusted 
rich people, including the governor, as a matter of principle. But they 
realize, he said, “that at this pivotal moment we need a strong guy for 
the region” who knows how to manage effectively and “doesn’t need to 
take bribes.”

While Ukraine’s fractious national government in Kiev has been severely 
rattled by Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its ominous military 
maneuvers, the Dnipropetrovsk region has moved swiftly to form its own 
regional defense council, set up reserve command centers stocked with 
food and water, and devise detailed plans for what officials, police 
officers, firefighters and other public servants must do in the event of 
an invasion.

“While they are arguing in Kiev,” Mr. Korban said, “we are preparing for 
action.”

The ground floor of the regional administration building has been turned 
over rent-free to a citizens’ defense organization headed by Yuri 
Bereza, a retired soldier who fought in Afghanistan for the Soviet Army. 
His group has signed up more than 7,000 volunteers, aged 16 to 78, ready 
to fight if Russia invades.

The new governor, Mr. Kolomoysky, has dipped into his own pockets to buy 
$5 million worth of diesel oil, aviation fuel and batteries for 
Ukraine’s underfunded and ill-equipped military. The gesture impressed 
Ukrainians more accustomed to officials stealing from them.

Mr. Korban said he had assured employees of the regional administration 
that no one would be fired for having supported the previous government, 
or even for past instances of petty corruption, because “they had to 
work within the system that existed.” If everyone who ever gave or took 
a bribe were punished, “we would have to put half the country in jail,” 
he added. “This is a tolerant revolution, a soft revolution.”

All the same, the new regional leaders have reduced the number of 
government employees by 10 percent, mostly by cutting people who drew 
salaries but rarely, if ever, showed up for work — and they plan to trim 
even more. Mr. Korban insisted that he was motivated not by political 
vengeance but by a determination to apply the logic of business 
management to government service.
Continue reading the main story
Ukraine Crisis in Maps

A visual survey of the continuing dispute, including satellite images of 
Russian naval positions and maps showing political, cultural and 
economic factors in the crisis.

Some opponents of Ukraine’s former leaders complain that the new 
government has not gone far enough, and question the motives of Mr. 
Kolomoysky, who until his appointment in early March spent most of his 
time abroad and did not publicly challenge Mr. Yanukovych. But a 
Ukrainian television channel he owns often featured reports favorable to 
protesters, a stance that drew repeated complaints from the president’s 
camp and irritated phone calls from Mr. Yanukovych himself.

“We need to change not only people but the whole corrupt system,” said 
Viktor Oryol, a leader of the local branch of a nationalist group known 
as Right Sector, which has clashed with the authorities in Kiev over 
what it sees as the slow pace of change. Mr. Oryol acknowledged that Mr. 
Kolomoysky had used his own money to help the military but suggested 
that he had done so only to ensure that an energy company he partly owns 
won a contract to supply the armed forces with fuel.

Mr. Kolomoysky denied this and said the fuel contract was far from a 
juicy business deal: It represents a steep discount to market prices and 
allows the military to take delivery of the fuel without any payment 
upfront.

The Kremlin has helped fan suspicions of ulterior motives with a steady 
stream of mostly fanciful reports in Russia’s state-controlled news 
channels — widely watched here until March 12, when they were ordered 
off the air — that claimed the new leaders of Dnipropetrovsk were lining 
their pockets, persecuting ethnic Russians and driving the region to 
starvation.

As well as waging a propaganda war, Moscow has also sought to undermine 
Ukraine’s post-Yanukovych order by squeezing the country economically. 
It has closed its market to a wide variety of Ukrainian goods, including 
rockets manufactured by Dnipropetrovsk’s flagship company, Uzhmash. With 
no orders from Russia, Uzhmash has struggled to pay its electricity 
bills and the salaries of its 10,000 employees.

To calm worries that they moved into government service only to plunder 
public funds, the Dnipropetrovsk moguls have all agreed to forgo the 
salaries, cars and bodyguards that come with their jobs.

Mr. Taruta, the new governor of Donetsk, is also working pro bono and, 
before pro-Russia activists again stormed his government offices on 
Sunday, had looked forward to a calming of tensions and an eventual 
return to his previous career in business. Of his job in government, “I 
did not want it, did not expect it and would never have accepted it if 
it had not been proposed by such a high level,” he said, referring to 
the new leadership in Kiev. His family members, he added, were “all 
against this. They understood the risk.”





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