This post of our series on the war in Ukraine will focus on the oligarchs. We saw previously how the oligarchic system functions and its impacts on the country, notably in terms of poverty and a weak, fragile, and dependent state. Here, we shall look first at the way to classify oligarchs, if any, and at the interactions among oligarchs. We shall then present oligarchs and tycoons one by one, separating them into two sections, first the wealthiest and most influential, then the others. We shall only provide details for the most influential businessmen, notably addressing their relationship to politics and to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. We shall, however, also name the others, notably to allow for monitoring.
Groups and interactions among oligarchs
Following Slawomir Matuszak (“The oligarchic democracy”, OSW, 2012), three main oligarchic clans exist, namely the Donetsk group, the Dnipropetrovsk one, the RUE group. We can then add another category of “non affiliated”, very rich people and oligarchs and wonder if a new “group” of agriculture-oriented oligarchs might be in the making. However, as will become apparent below, groups are mainly convenient ways to apprehend reality. Pragmatism, multiple shifting alliances, struggles and sometimes bitter conflicts, all in the name of self-interest, with sometimes not that solid positions business-wise, govern relationships among oligarchs and with politics. The mapping depicts the relationships of the oligarchs among themselves and with political parties (interactive graph and high resolution image available to members – become a member).
Matuszak’s approach is built out of the historical evolution of the Ukrainian oligarchy. Accordingly, and without considering exceptions, the Donetsk and RUE groups would support the Party of Regions (the ex-Party of Yanukovich), the RUE actually tending to support more than one party, while the Dnipropetrovsk “clan” would rather support Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party.
However, reality is more nuanced, which confirms what Matuszak (ibid.) already underlined for the past. Tymoshenko’s controversial status, exemplified by her insufficient results at the 25 May Presidential elections (12.81%, Results of the election, Telegraf), led oligarchs, for example Ihor Kolomoisky, to support other parties such as Klitschko’s UDAR. Sergey Tihipko was both part of the Dnipropetrovsk group and deputy president of the Party of Regions, until he was expelled in April 2014.
Well-introduced and part of the Western financial, business and political elite (Katya Soldak, Forbes, 24 march 2014), Viktor Pinchuk, also part of the Dnipropetrovsk group, might have become relatively removed from “domestic party politics”, rather focusing on philanthropy (Yuri Bender, Financial Times, 27 March 2014). However, this did not stop him taking a very pro-active role in building close ties with the West and the EU, including through lobbying in Washington, notably to oppose Russia (Soldak, Ibid; Forbes 2014, John Helmer, Business Insider, 23 May 2014 & Dances with Bears, 13 December 2013). His business and fortune might be facing considerable challenges, considering export difficulties, as well as lawsuits against fellow tycoons (Helmer, Ibid and 3 October 2013).
Meanwhile, Vitaly Hayduk and Serhyi Taruta, both from the Donetsk group, support Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party and tension would exist between them and Rinat Akhmetov. The other major tension and enmity would be between Tymoshenko and Firtash, with severe consequences as the current gas dispute over price between Russia and Ukraine is rooted in the struggle between the two oligarchs (see details below under Firtash).
Many of the other oligarchs and very rich businesspeople supported Yushenko’s Our Ukraine in 2004, then Blok Yulii Tymoshenko (BYuT) in 2006, when tension arose between Yushenko and Tymoshenko. Yet, the new President Viktor Poroshenko, who is now supported politically by the UDAR, also served as minister under Yanukovich.
It is also interesting to note that many businesses and holdings emphasize in their corporate communication, social corporate responsibility, community projects, philanthropy and foundations, and for some taxes paid. We might thus wonder, optimistically, if the negative consequences of the oligarchic system on Ukraine, as seen previously, which may only impact businesses and individual fortunes, as the civil war shows only too well, may not have started becoming obvious. In turn, this might have started to lead to a potential will to at least partly remedy them. Further in-depth research would be needed to assess real impact.
We shall now go beyond categorization and look at each oligarch or influential billionaire.
Oligarchs and influential billionaires and millionaires
Nota: as stated above, this list only considers those best known and most influential individuals (and major political parties). It does not cover the whole 2013 list of the “20 richest MPs in Ukraine” (Ukraininform, 17 July 2013), nor, of course, the whole 2014 Forbes Ukraine list of the richest people in Ukraine, including because some businesspeople may also not be involved in influencing politics, although this should have to be evidenced on a case by case basis. The value of each wealth, evaluated by Forbes 2014, changes according to the date.
Fortune: $12.8 B (#90 Forbes 2014, 10 June, #1 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
Business: System Capital Management (SCM). Initially steel and coal, but also electricity production, finance (banking and insurance), telecommunications, media, real estate, agriculture (197 000 hectares of cultivated land), etc. It has over 300.000 employees, with “average salaries higher by 52% than national average (SCM website). It paid $2.25B in tax in 2011 and “over UAH 28 bn” ($ ± 2.39 B) in 2013 (Ibid.; SCM statement 23 April 2014).
Local ties: Donetsk. However SCM group operates in 14 Ukrainian regions and 6 other countries (U.S., Russia, Italy, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Great Britain) (SCM website).
Politics and conflict in the East: Akhmetov is considered as the major supporter of the Party of Regions (e.g. Matuszak, Ibid: 51). On 25 January 2014 (SCM statement), Akhmetov warned that use of force and loss of political life was unacceptable, which was directed at Yanukovich, and might have led, as suggested by The Guardian (Shaun Walker, 27 January), to the former president’s new attitude towards compromise. This did not however, avoid the February bloodshed in Kiev (see Setting the stage).
On 26 February, presenting his condolences to the victims’ families, SCM called notably for “significantly extend[ing] the powers of local governments” and increasing transparency and accountability of the government. Through SCM statements, Akhmetov, focusing on hte Donetsk Oblast, repeatedly warned about the risk and actual crescendo of political violence he condemned, and asserted he was for a united Ukraine, however with decentralization (2 March; 14 March; 11 April; 14 April; 30 April; 14 May) until, facing escalation, he strongly denounced the “DPR” (Donetsk People’s Republic) (19 May 2014, 21 May). We may hypothesize that the allegations that were made against Akhmetov according to which he would have supported “separatists” or played all sides (e.g. BBC News, 20 May; The Economist, 20 May) may also have been prompted by the absence of statement regarding the incorporation of Crimea within Russia.
Akhmetov also tried to act as a negotiator between Kiev and those having seized government buildings in April (Richard Balmforth, Reuters, 9 April 2014), and organised peaceful groups and protests agains the DPR (see previous post). His foundation helps evacuating notably children from the Donetsk oblast (Interfax Ukraine, 4 June).
Beliefs and aims: “For a strong, independent and united Ukraine. … Ukraine is a unified and united country” (SCM statement 14 April), however needing decentralization (SCM statement 26 Feb, Ibid).
Fortune: $3.1 B (#559 Forbes 2014 6 June, #2 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
Business: Interpipe (with very serious debt and solvency problems – Fitch downgraded its debt to junk – considering exports difficulties, see The Guardian, 3 April 2014; John Helmer, Business Insider, 23 May 2014), Eastone group, Starlight Media.
Local ties: Dnipropetrovsk
Pinchuk filed lawsuits against Henadiy Boholyubov and Ihor Kolomoisky, who counter-attacked, potentially creating tense relations with Rinat Akhmetov (The Guardian, Ibid; Helmer, ibid).
Politics and conflict: He supported the Maidan revolution (Yuri Bender, The Financial Times, 27 March 2014). Pinchuk actively lobbied for a UE-West oriented Ukraine and against Russia, notably in Washington, and through various fora, way before the start of the Ukrainian crisis (Soldak,, Ibid; John Helmer, Ibid. & Dances with Bears, 13 December 2013).
Fortune: $2.1 B (#876 Forbes 2014 6 June, #3 Forbes Ukraine 2014) – Holding: Privat group, see below Ihor Kolomoisky – Dnipropetrovsk
Fortune: $1.8 B (#1020 Forbes 2014 6 June, #4 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
Business: “Privat group” not formally incorporated; businesses are held through Privatbank, the largest Ukrainian bank (e.g. Dragon Capital) or “Privat-Intertrading” (see Metallurgy in Ukraine). Held with Henadiy Boholyubov and Oleksiy Martynov -#24 Forkes Ukraine 2014 (Ibid.). Activities: metallurgy, mining, oil, petrochemical, food, air transport, media. Fighting a lawsuit brought by Pinchuk in London (Forbes 2014; Helmer Ibid.).
According to Matuszak, “Privat was known for its extremely aggressive way of doing business” including using violence (Ibid: 30; 104-107).
Local ties: Kolomoisky is native from Dnipropetrovsk, most businesses of the group are based there, but also operate in the whole of Ukraine, Romania, Russia, U.S. (Matuszak: 104; Metallurgy).
Politics and conflict in the East: Although Kolomoisky usually lives in Switzerland (Forbes 2014), he nevertheless takes an active part in Ukrainian political life. He supported UDAR in 2012 (JTA, 20 Feb 2014; Olszański, Ibid.), and, in March 2014 was appointed governor of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast (Interfax Ukraine, 3 March 2014), position from which he made stringent declarations and financed (from early May onwards) a paramilitary group to fight against the DPR, the Dnepr battalion (Roula Khalaf and Roman Olearchyk, “Ukraine governor offers bounties to keep separatists at bay“, Financial Times, 16 May 2014). At the end of April, pro-Russians in Donetsk had attacked the office of the PrivatBank (AFP 28 April 2014).
Kolomoisky convened on 11 May a congress of territorial communities of southeastern Ukraine, notably “to counteract military aggression of the Russian Federation and terrorist acts against Ukrainian government” and put to consideration the “creation of a united Self-Defense and Territorial Defense Headquarters and volunteer battalions of the Ukraine’s Interior Ministry” (Interfax Ukraine, 7 May 2014). The salaries of those groups are partly paid by businessmen (Khalaf and Olearchyk).
He also created a system of bounty to capture Russian weapons and “terrorists”, not hesitating to “warn” a pro-separatist leader of the existence of a $ 1 million bounty on his head (Khalaf and Olearchyk). Meanwhile, Kolomoisky’s allies would be posted to other regions’ local government positions (Ibid.).
Beliefs and aims: According to Matuszak, Kolomoisky – as most oligarchs – is motivated by self and business-related interests rather than by ideological ones (Ibid: 73). However he recently took a strong anti-Russian stance and started a “fight” with Putin (e.g. Khalaf and Olearchyk, AFP, 28 April 2014; Reuters, 6 March 2014; Alexander J. Motyl, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues“, WorldAffairs, 11 April 2014).
$1.6 B (#1106 Forbes 2014 6 June, #5 Forbes Ukraine 2014) – Holding: Smart Holding Group – Shareholder of Akhmetov’s Metinvest (24%) – Metallurgy, steel – Russian origin, becomes Ukrainian in 2012 (Forbes) – MP for the Party of Region, he finally voted against violence in February 2014 (Reuters, 21 February 2014).
Fortune: $1.3 B (#1329 Forbes 2014 10 June, #6 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
Local ties: Born in Bolhrad, Odessa; raised in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine (Pravda).
Politics and conflict in the East: A supporter of Yushchenko and Our Ukraine since 2002, although having contributed to create the Party of Regions (AJE, 23 May 2014), Poroshenko has held various official positions throughout the years, notably in 2005 “Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC)… minister of foreign affairs for several months in late 2009/early 2010… and minister for the economy from March to December 2012” (Matuszak: 28, 108-109; Ukrainian News, 7 June 2014).
An early supporter of the Euromaidan revolution (AJE, Ibid.), he campaigned on higher living standards, fighting corruption, ending “war and chaos” in the East, working notably with Russia on this, closer relations with the EU up to integration, never recognizing the loss of Crimea to Russia, and preserving the territorial integrity of Ukraine (DW; AJE, profile; Bloomberg, 25 May 2014. He promised early parliamentary elections, that should take place in Autumn 2014 (Bloomberg, 25 May 2014) and to sell his businesses, save Channel 5 (AJE, 23 May.)
Poroshenko was elected as President of Ukraine on 25 May 2014 (54.70%, Results of the election, Telegraf), and sworn in on 7 June. As soon as elected, he vowed to end the insurgency in the East “in hours” and that there would be no negotiations with terrorists (The Guardian, 26 May 2014). In his inauguration address, Poroshenko emphasized:
“I want peace and I will secure the unity of Ukraine. Thus, I begin my work offering a peaceful plan.
I strongly urge everyone who illegally took weapons in their hands to lay them down.
In response, I first of all guarantee the exemption from criminal responsibility for those who do not have blood of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians on their hands. And those who is not involved in funding terrorism. Second, controlled corridor for Russian mercenaries who would like to return home. Third, peaceful dialogue. Certainly, not with “strielky”, “abvery”, “bisy” and other criminals. I am speaking of the dialogue with peaceful citizens of Ukraine.” Address of the President of Ukraine during the ceremony of inauguration, 7 June 2014.
While relentless fighting goes on in both Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the new President wishes to see a ceasefire implemented during the week 9-15 June 2014 (Interfax Ukraine 9 June 2014), which obviously did not happen. Instead, war seems to settles in as in their counter-attacks to the continuing Kiev Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO), on 14 June, for example, the insurgents shot an Il-76 transporter near Luhansk, which led to the death of 49 servicemen of the Ukrainian army (e.g. AFP, 15 June 2014, The Telegraph). Poroshenko also decided to open a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave the zones of anti-terrorist operations on 10 June (Interfax Ukraine, 10 June 2014), however, according to the speaker of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, no such corridor would so far have been created (Itar-Tass, “Donetsk Republic leader: no humanitarian corridors in Ukraine” 15 June 2014). Independent sources do not seem either to have reported their creation.
Assuming the new, legitimate President finally succeeds relatively rapidly , which, considering the isolation of the Donbass insurgents is not unlikely, two major risks seem to exist here, which could imply liabilities for the future, from a strong and united Ukraine’s point of view. First, a bloodbath for the fighters in the East could take place, when it would increasingly seem they are in majority Ukrainian (Alec Luhn, “Volunteers or paid fighters? The Vostok Battalion looms large in war with Kiev“, The Guardian, 6 June 2014). Second, assuming insurgents in the East comply and surrender, the major difficulty will be to implement all the presidential decisions fairly, notably considering the weakness of the state and the involvement of various groups in the ATO we saw previously.
Beliefs and aims: According to his campaign and first actions, Poroshenko is a heartfelt nationalist, who will fight for the integrity of Ukraine, and is not afraid of harsh decisions. He believes in rapprochement with the West, notably the EU, but also NATO (Matuszak: 64), yet without cutting ties with Russia.
$1.1 B (#1543 Forbes 2014 6 June, #8 Forbes Ukraine 2014) – Business: Finances and Credit (banking), Ferrexpo (mining, London stock exchange), machine-building etc. (Matuszak: 110-111 – Lives in London (Forbes).
He has been many time a MP including twice for the Blok Yulii Tymoshenko (BYuT) and, in 2012, as independent for the city of Komsomolsk, Poltava Oblast (Matuszak: 29, 41; Wikipedia; Ukrinform, ibid.).
Serhiy Tihipko (website)
He is part of the “Dnipropetrovsk Group”. He has held various governmental positions in most governments (Matuszak: 102), including vice Prime Minister in the Yanukovich government. He joined the Party of regions in 2012 and was excluded in 2014 when he refused to withdraw his candidacy to the presidential elections for the party’s candidate (“Ukrainian parliamentarian accuses Party of Regions of betraying interests of Ukraine“, Voice of Russia, 7 April 2014). He accused the Party of Regions to promote separatist ideas in Eastern Ukraine (Ibid.). He received 5.23% of votes during the elections (Results of the election, Telegraf). He would be planning to reactivate his former political party, Strong Ukraine (Novostimira.ua), and promotes support for the internally displaced people from Donetsk and Luhansk (Novostimira.ua, 6 June 2014), pointing out that “the state failed to prevent armed conflict”.
Dmitry Firtash (personal website)
Fortune: $500 million (Agustino Fontevecchia and Yuri Aksyonov, Forbes, 14 March 2014)
Business: Group DF – Chemical industry, gas sector, banking, titanium industry, media. According to James Delingpole’s interview with Firtash, “his companies employ more than 100,000 people, with an annual turnover in 2012 of $6 billion” (“Don’t call him an oligarch“, The Spectator, 19 April 2014). Group DF, among others, holds Nadra bank, which would own Nadra Yuzovskaya LLC, which signed with Shell over the exploitation of shale gas in Yuzovskaya (Rusmininfo).
Local ties: Firtash is from Sinkov (Syn’kiv, Ternopil oblast). He promotes there specific developmental aid projects (biography), and, “in September 2012, the largest agricultural complex of the Western Ukraine ‘DF Agro’ (Sinkov) was built in the village of Sinkov” (biography; agribusiness GDF; Forbes Ukraine, 21 March 2013, the link to the DF Agro returns 404).
Politics and conflict in the East: Firtash is part of Matuszak’s labelled “RUE group”, one of the key supporters of the Party of Regions. He also supported President Yushchenko, then the choice of Yanukovich as candidate for the Party of Regions in 2010. Yulia Tymoshenko and Dmitry Firtash are enemies after their dispute regarding Naftogaz in 2009, when Tymoshenko succeeded in eliminating RosUkrEnergo – and thus Firtash – as agent in gas trade with Russia. This move costed dearly to Ukraine as the price of gas in the new contract signed between Naftogaz and Gazprom was much higher compared with the previous system, Delingpole mentionning it doubled (Matuszak, Ibid: 30, 33, 50-53; Delingpole, Ibid.). Indeed, it is in this unfavourable new contract that is rooted the current gas price dispute between Ukraine and Russia (Reuters, “Russia’s Gazprom says Ukraine fails to pay debt by deadline“, 16 June 2014). Matuszak also notes that “representatives of the RUE Group were intensively lobbying for” Tymoshenko’s imprisonment in 2011 (71).
For the 2012 elections, Firtash would have been one of the main backer of UDAR (Tadeusz A. Olszański, “After the parliamentary elections in Ukraine: a tough victory for the Party of Regions“, OSW, 7 Nov 2012). For the 25 May 2014 presidential elections, Firtash supported Poroshenko and helped organize the meeting between Klitschko (UDAR) and Poroshenko, which led to the former desisting in favour of the latter (“David Herszenhorn, “Brash Ukrainian Mogul Prepares to Fight U.S. Bribery Charges“, The New York Times, 6 May 2014). According to Jackson Diehl, “the candidate’s staff denies it” (“Looking for the winners from Ukraine’s election“, The Washington Post, 26 May 2014).
Firtash is seen – rightly or wrongly – by many as “the main figure in the pro-Russian faction among the Ukrainian elite” and even sometimes as “merely a figurehead, who only represents the interests of other people (not necessarily originating from Ukraine)” (Matuszak, Ibid: 18, 50), which may go a long way towards explaining his arrest in Austria on 12 March 2014 at the US FBI request.
Beliefs and aims: Firtash stresses his philantropic activities, including “Mr. Firtash’s enterprises have been promoting the social and economic development of municipalities where they are based” (personal website) and Ukrainian studies in Cambridge. His commitment is to an Ukraine he wishes to be “strong, neutral and independent” (Interview (2) by Inter TV Channel, 12 May 2014), which includes his aim to make the country independent energetically (ibid.). he also points out that “Ukrainians must come to a consensus on the key issue: what kind of ideology they need” (Interview (1) by Inter TV Channel, 12 May 2014). He supports decentralization and federalization, but not separatism (Interview (1)). Previously, speaking in the name of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine he presides, he suggested that businesses should “elaborate options on how we can help the budget, how we can support the army. We want to formulate a proposal and then forward it to the government” (24 March 2014).
Other politically involved and influential tycoons
$ 667 million (#12 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
Business: Kernel holding S.A., (incorporated in Luxembourg), largest “Ukrainian” holding company for trade and export of grain. It “leases 400,000 hectares of prime farmland in Ukraine, with a focus on the central and central-western parts of Ukraine” (Kernel, Farming). Two other companies in Krasnodar region, Russia (Forbes 2014).
Verevsky is from Poltava, Poltava Oblast.
MP for the Party of Regions, he was stripped of his role by court decision because he also has business activities (sic!) (Interfax Ukraine, Kyiv Post, 5 March 2013).
$ 623 million (#13 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
Business: Avangardco Investments Public Ltd, Eggs; UkrLandFarming PLC, the world’s eighth-largest land cultivator, cultivates about 560,000 hectares in Ukraine (Roman Olearchyk and Lucy Hornby “China looks to Ukraine as demand for food rises“, Financial Times, 5 Nov 2013). US Cargill buys 5% in UkrLandFarming in January 2014 (Forbes Ukraine 2014); banking. Interested in developing ties with China and Asia (Olearchyk and Hornby).
Initially Avangardco developed in Ivano-Frankivsk, then Central Ukraine, but is largely present throughout Ukraine (see company map).
Supported the Tymoshenko bloc (Alexander Reid Ross, “Solidarity Ukraine-Style“, 6 February 2014).
$ 479 million (#17 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
From the Donetsk Oblast, he was appointed governor of the region by the interim government (Luke Harding, “The billionaire parachuted in to run Ukraine’s most troubled region“, The Guardian, 25 April 2014).
$122 million (#60 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
Ivanyushchenko is from Yenakievo in Donetsk, but his business’s sphere of influence could be mainly in the Zaporizhia and Odessa Oblasts and allegedly involve violence and mafia-like behaviour (Matuzsack: 43-45).
He is an MP for the Party of Regions, part of “The Family,” group close to Yanukovich, and on the EU Black list (Matuzsack: 43-45; Itar Tass 15 April 2014).
$104 million (#74 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
$ 55 M (#99 Forbes Ukraine 2014)
less than $ 50 M?, still qualified as oligarchs, e.g. (JTA, 20 Feb 2014) – Party of Region.
Featured image: Part of “Gold from Russian bank” by By History of Geo (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.