Leading UK politicians are courting controversy by supporting a new European reform and investment programme launched today to help modernise Ukraine and which is backed by one of the country’s richest oligarchs currently fighting extradition.
Dmitry Firtash, the Ukrainian billionaire oligarch who has been a fugitive in Vienna for over a year while fighting extradition for fraud charges in the US, is one of the driving forces behind the new Agency for Modernisation of Ukraine, unveiled at a conference in the city.
Speaking at the conference attended by politicians and policymakers from around the world, Mr Firtash said that all parties – Ukraine, the EU and Russia – needed to come to the table to talk openly about all the issues and bring an end to war. He added that Ukraine is “basically bankrupt”, close to collapse and that power must be devolved to regions if it is to modernize and that it needs up to $300bn of new investment to help reconstruct the country.
Despite his tricky position, the Ukrainian businessman – who negotiated the first big gas deal between Ukraine and Russia nearly 10 years ago – is seen by many as an influential go-between in relations between the Kremlin and Kiev; by his critics as pro-President Putin.
Despite his controversial position, Mr Firtash has been leading the talks behind the scenes over the last few months to bring together politicians from Germany, France and the UK to put together the new AMU which has the support of the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko and, for the first time, the Trade Unions of Ukraine – which represents 70 per cent of the private sector of the country - and the Federation of Employers.
If the reform programme meets with the Ukrainian government’s approval, then the next stage of the plan is to launch a billion-dollar reconstruction fund later this year to international investors. So far more than 20 of the country’s leading oligarchs – including Mr Firtash, Rinat Achmeto and Victor Pinchuk – have indicated they will invest in the fund.
Lord Risby, one of three co-founders of the AMU and chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, told the Independent from Vienna: “This is a noble cause and offers Ukraine some ray of humanity during its troubles. All of us involved in the new agency are dedicated to helping the country by improving law enforcement, introducing anti-corruption measures, improving health and trade in the country.”
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
In response to a question about working with the controversial Mr Firtash, Lord Risby said: “Who is not controversial figure in this situation?”
The Conservative peer added Mr Poroschenko has given his backing to the new plan which is an important signal regarding Ukraine’s entry into the European future and an alternative to reigning violence and destruction. “It is also a strong sign of European solidarity. We believe that Russia also wants stability in the region and will support the plan.”
Other figures from the UK involved include Lord Macdonald, the Liberal Democrat peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions, who will be leading reforms for law-enforcement in the country as well as Lord Mandelson, former Labour spinmeister, who is to take charge of trade.
Germany’s Peer Steinbruck, is to head finance and tax while France’s Laurence Parisot, head of the employers federation, is to look after the economy with Bernard Kouchner in charge of health. Former South African President, F.W Klerk is also involved in the reconciliation programme.
Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher, and Karl-Georg Wellman, the German politician, are co-founders and advisors to the agency alongside Lord Risby.Reuse content