[Marxism] 2 Ukraine oligarchs speak up for unity, against pro-Russia faction - Los Angeles Times

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat May 17 10:38:10 MDT 2014


You don't amass a billion-dollar fortune in a country infamous for 
corruption and inefficient industries by ignoring the political winds.

No one has more to lose from the campaign by Ukraine's pro-Russia 
separatists than a handful of men who have grown rich off the mines and 
factories in the country's east. They largely have been quiet during the 
months of unrest racking the nation, knowing that they depend on markets 
in Russia and that they might need to reach an accommodation with 
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who already has annexed Ukraine's 
Crimean peninsula.

So the moves this week by two oligarchs to back the Ukrainian government 
against the separatists, coinciding with a cooling of rhetoric from 
Moscow, could prove to be a key moment in the dispute. Though some of 
Ukraine's wealthiest magnates continue to sit on the fence, a strong 
stance by the country's richest man in favor of a unified Ukraine might 
be an indication that he feels the threat of direct Russian intervention 
is fading.

In the port city of Mariupol this week, the unarmed steelworkers of 
Metinvest who appeared on the streets in their orange hard hats and 
company-issued gray coveralls were for many residents a welcome change 
from menacing pro-Russia gunmen.

The only question for many in the city of 500,000 is why it took so long 
for factory owners to act. Some labor leaders in the region said they 
had been waiting for just such a sign that the magnates would be behind 
them in opposing the separatists.

The steelworkers took to the streets at the behest of Metinvest magnate 
Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, with a fortune Forbes estimates 
at $11 billion. Metinvest is part of Akhmetov's System Capital 
Management conglomerate of more than 100 companies engaged in mining, 
metallurgy, energy production, telecommunications and real estate.

Thousands of off-duty employees bolstered police patrols and dismantled 
barricades of tires, bricks and sandbags that the separatists had 
erected to prevent their ouster by the government's "anti-terrorist 

The government operation has been going badly overall. Underfunded and 
poorly armed troops managed to recover only a few rural roadblocks and 
crude encampments from the separatists, who occupy more than a dozen 
towns and cities in the east.

In Dnipropetrovsk, another volatile area of the Russian-speaking region, 
billionaire Gov. Igor Kolomoisky has also put his wealth to work in 
defense of a united Ukraine.

The founder of the Privat Group of banking and aviation industries has 
offered bounties for captured separatist fighters with ties to Moscow, 
the Kyiv Post reported in an extensive account of a newly deployed 
pro-government militia known as the Donbass Battalion.

The oligarchs appear to have concluded that separatism endangers their 
export-dependent businesses. The reclusive Akhmetov issued a statement 
this week warning of economic "catastrophe" if eastern Ukraine seceded 
and its industries were cut off from international financing and trade 

The magnates' moves came as Russia kept its distance from the 
independence referendums held Sunday in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. 
Though separatists appeared to have Moscow's backing when they seized 
government facilities during the last two months, the Kremlin has been 
pointedly silent since the votes, which organizers said strongly 
supported self-rule if not secession from Ukraine.

Besides being a possible reading on the Kremlin's attitude, the 
oligarchs' intervention could help turn the tide of an insurrection that 
has so far overwhelmed Ukraine's interim leaders and left much of the 
public, particularly in Europe-leaning western Ukraine, fearing renewed 
Russian domination 23 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

With the support of some of Akhmetov's 300,000 employees, the government 
in Kiev may have a fighting chance of turning things around.

The leading candidate to win the Ukrainian presidency in the May 25 
election is himself a rich businessman. Petro Poroshenko, who is worth 
an estimated $1.3 billion, made his money in the confection business. 
Russia has banned imports of his popular chocolates.

Some of Ukraine's wealthiest business figures continue to sit on the 
fence, either out of concern that they still might need to cut deals 
with Russia if Ukraine is divided or because they think their business 
interests are better served by sticking close to Moscow.

Viktor Pinchuk, with a fortune estimated at $3.8 billion, has been 
silent amid the turmoil, which could negatively affect his media and 
pipeline interests. So has Yuri Kosuk, who made his money in poultry.

Vadim Novinsky, a Russian oligarch whose net worth is estimated at $1.9 
billion, is suffering the effects of misreading the political trend. He 
obtained Ukrainian citizenship two years ago and won a parliamentary 
seat in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. He has been little heard from 
since the Ukrainian peninsula was annexed by Russia two months ago, and 
has been barred from going back to his district.

A labor leader from eastern Ukraine said workers' worries about their 
jobs made them hesitant to support the separatists.

"Who will pay our pensions? What will happen to the miners if we go to 
Russia, where their own miners are unemployed and they have no place to 
sell their own coal and steel?" Mykola Volynko, the chief of a miners 
union, said in an interview during a visit to Kiev this week.

Volynko said separatists had been trying to enlist miners to strike and 
sever their relations with Kiev but that most had resisted out of fear 
their jobs would disappear.

Volynko complained that militants in Donetsk had blocked buses bringing 
the miners to their pits and that virulent propaganda being circulated 
by Russian media was making inroads among some of the workers.

He said he hoped the action by Akhmetov and others in support of 
Ukrainian unity hadn't come too late.

"How long would these terrorists last in Russia?" Volynko asked, 
alluding to the suppression of dissent there. "Why would anyone want 
this territory taken to Russia?"

The oligarchs say the recent engagement of steelworkers, miners and 
others whose jobs may be at stake is intended to bring law and order to 
the region.

"Mr. Akhmetov is determined to do whatever is necessary to get rid of 
weapons and restore peace to the region and ensure [the Donbass region] 
remains in Ukraine," his spokeswoman, Elena Dovzhenko, told The Times. 
"Mariupol is only the first operation to help bring an end to the crisis."

carol.williams at latimes.com

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