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Ukraine Shackled by Revolution and Oligarchs

Published: March 5, 2014 (Issue # 1800)


Many people see theUkrainian uprising as adirect result ofa sort ofdoubles match that paired ousted Presidents Vladimir Putin andViktor Yanukovych against German Chancellor Angela Merkel andEuropean Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Others suspect that Washington instigated theturmoil. But if we clear thehaze surrounding thecrisis, then suddenly we can see that thereal root ofthe problem lies buried deep beneath thesurface: anintricate web woven byUkraines wealthiest business leaders.

It would be amistake tothink that Ukraine wants torepeat Russias accomplishments andYanukovych sought toreplicate Putins success as apowerful leader. Even though thetwo countries share asimilar language andculture, their political systems are vastly different, especially when it comes tothe part played bywealth businessmen ininfluencing politics.

Bythe late 2000s, theoperative influence ofbillionaires ondaily politics had almost completely vanished inRussia, mainly aresult ofmeasures taken byPutin. Clear examples ofthose measures include the10-year imprisonment ofRussias once most wealthy man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, andthe banishment ofone-time Kremlin powerbroker Boris Berezovsky intoself-exile andapparent suicide inBritain. While Russian billionaires visibly controlled politics via the Family atthe end ofthe Boris Yeltsin era, Putin systematically destroyed their influence byappointing siloviki, who have controlled Russia forthe past decade.

Incontrast with Russia, Ukraine has established afairly unique political system after the1991 dissolution ofthe Soviet Union. Similarly toRussia, several billionaires andtheir clans have emerged due tothe unaccountable andfast privatization offormer state assets under President Leonid Kuchma during the1990s. Dominant clans fromDonetsk, Dnipropetrovsk andKiev have appeared inmetallurgy, banking, energy andother industries.

Bythe early 2000s, Kuchmas presidential powers began tofade thanks toa status quo-based system that lacked reform. That is why thelast few years ofhis regime are known income circles as theKuchma vapidity.

Enter anunexpected andinteresting turn ofevents. In2004, Ukrainian voters elected apresident, Viktor Yushchenko, who was out ofthe reach ofthe clans influence. Yushchenko, with his independence, patriotism andradical anti-corruption andanti-Russian attitude, became asignificant threat tothe billionaires who controlled Ukrainian politics. Yushchenkos supporters were mere businessmen fromthe western part ofUkraine: small fry compared tobillionaires such as Rinat Akhmetov andDmytro Firtash. This is exactly what proved tobe Yushchenkos undoing. He only had thesupport ofthe masses but barely any financial or political support fromthe ruling elite. That disadvantage proved tobe quite costly inan oligarch-controlled nation such as Ukraine.

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Tuesday, Sept. 2


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