Ukraine crisis: All eyes on the oligarchs as political sands shift

The unrest is stretching some highly profitable allegiances

In Ukraine, the collapse of the Soviet Union saw business and politics become intertwined: the country’s oligarchs were clear beneficiaries. Today, there are scores of super-rich MPs who wield power as the owners of several television stations, all the while keeping close ties to the political elite.

But some of these allegiances are being severely tested. Until now Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, was better known in Britain for his extravagant purchase of the penthouse at One Hyde Park, one of London’s most exclusive addresses, for £136m, rather than for his work on political reconciliation.

This week the 47-year-old denounced the bloodshed in Kiev, issuing a statement that said: “Rinat Akhmetov urges an end to the bloodshed in the streets of Kiev and calls on all the opposing parties to return to the negotiation process immediately and continue to work without any delay until a solution is found that would take Ukraine out of this deep political crisis.”

That did not wash with a lone protester mounting a vigil outside Mr Akhmetov’s London address today. Draped in a Ukrainian flag and holding a banner reading “Ukraine – it’s on fire”, Andriy Alexsyeyev, a 43-year-old designer who lives in London, was hoping to catch a glimpse of the oligarch. It is understood that Mr Akhmetov flew to Britain this evening.

“I think he has influence on the president and the members of the Parliament,” Mr Alexsyeyev said. “Yesterday was the worst day in the history of Ukraine. It’s time to think about the situation from outside, not inside the fight. People think for Ukraine it’s a choice between Russia and Europe, but that’s not true, it’s about corruption and all the wrong decisions that the Ukrainian government has made for the last 20 years.”


Victor Pinchuk is married to the only daughter of the controversial former president Leonid Kuchma. He counts Tony Blair as a friend and has hosted Bill Clinton and the businessman George Soros in Ukraine.

Unlike Mr Akhmetov, however, he is not considered a loyalist to President Yanukovych. His stance has been more muted. “It is time for all sides to take courageous steps towards compromise that they may not yet have been ready to take even this morning,” he has said. “Ukraine since its independence has avoided bloodshed. We must return to this tradition immediately.”

There has been no statement so far from Petro Poroshenko, the wealthiest oligarch openly backing the anti-government protests. Once dubbed a “cross between Willy Wonka and Che Guevara”, Mr Poroshenko, a confectionary billionaire, has reportedly been seen handing out chocolate on Independence Square and at the occupied trade union building where the opposition has established its headquarters.

But he also has experience of working with both sides of Ukraine’s political divide, having served as foreign minister under Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, and more recently as trade and economic development minister for Mr Yanukovych.

Other powerful business moguls include Vadim Novinsky, the third-richest man in Ukraine, and Serhiy Tigipko, a former presidential candidate and minister of labour. As the violence took a new turn this week, Mr Tigipko called for a new technocratic government to manoeuvre Ukraine away from the abyss.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent